Journalist Skye Stewart talks to people who devote themselves to helping the homeless youth and explores young people’s opinions on homelessness. She discovers that Covid-19 has been a major factor in the increase of those currently rough sleeping.
THE DEMAND to protect young vulnerable people are on the rise. Yet, with the government’s main focus geared towards furlough and restrictions, it seems that the issue of youth homelessness is being disregarded.
In England’s 2019 – 2020 data cycle, 65,745 young people approached local authority as homeless person or at risk of homelessness. Only 65% were offered support by the local authority, with 59% not being supported into housing. In addition, only 7% of those that sought help were accepted, as they were deemed to be statutorily homeless and owed support.
Clove Roberts-Hill, rough sleeper’s coordinator, said “We are working alongside many emergency accommodations to ensure that barriers to accommodation are addressed. On the rough sleeper’s team, we work at 45 complexes, entrenched rough sleepers at any one time. Our main goal is to build up relationship and trust and identify the barriers to accommodation, so we can break through this.
“A lot of the time it’s substance misuse, chaotic lifestyles, domestic violence, and mental health. You have to break down these barriers and work alongside these young people with these support needs for them to access accommodation.”
Photo: Centrepoint Camberwell hostel
Many findings show that the pandemic has had a detrimental effect in terms of interacting and providing temporary accommodations for vulnerable young people, due to government restrictions. As a result, many suffering from youth homelessness have had to endure undiagnosed mental health issues and long-term unemployment, due to lack of support.
Paul Noblet, Centrepoint’s head of media and public affairs, said: “If I was young and homeless, I would not have known that local councils have a legal duty to help if you’re under 18. At Centrepoint, that’s one big thing we’ve tried to do. We are continually raising awareness for other young people and organisations that help young people.
“With enough donations, we can intervene and implement positive change from early on to try and reverse any issues that a young person has when they reach our services. Mental health is an important issue and without charities like Centrepoint, many young people wouldn’t be given the correct support to help them through their lives and careers.
“We’ve seen unemployment amongst young people go up to about 15%. The pandemic highlighted a lot of issues that young people worry about. Hopefully, that means the government and MPs of all parties, should be a lot more willing to listen and make changes to the amount of financial aid we receive and offer more opportunities for young people. A lot more people need to understand the problems, the barriers, the challenges faced by homeless young people.
In Centrepoint’s end of year review, Centrepoint’s Helpline manager Paul Brocklehurst said: “Our Helpline supports as many young people facing homelessness as we can with signposting and advice, but the sheer volume of calls has been relentless and shows no sign of slowing down. The fact is that too many young people facing homelessness are dismissed by councils, who can demand they ‘prove’ their homelessness by sleeping rough or potentially put at further risk in all age accommodation. This shouldn’t be happening under any circumstances, but particularly during a pandemic.
“The drive to get rough sleepers off the streets during the first national lockdown showed what can be achieved when the political will is there to end rough sleeping. That said, even with a properly resourced and well-targeted intervention like that, the number of calls to our Helpline from young people in crisis, increased. If the government is serious about ending rough sleeping and tackling homelessness it needs a long-term plan for investment that includes ring-fenced money for youth-specific accommodation and services.”
The government reviewed and implement the Homeless Reduction Act, which will ensure that local housing authorities will take reasonable steps to prevent a person’s homelessness.
Bethany Smith, a 19-year-old student, who experienced homelessness during the pandemic said: “It is dehumanising watching everyday people walk past you like you’re a waste of space. I wouldn’t say I suffered from mental health issues during this time, but I would say I felt segregated in my area – my community. If I wasn’t strong enough, I definitely would’ve got caught up in the wrong crowds of people and even done something I’d regret.
“Being young and homeless is uneasy. You are expected to know how to get help and seek it accordingly. I grew up very dependent on my parents, so I didn’t even feel the need to know about these services or the laws that entitle me to help. I wish I knew about Centrepoint when I experienced homelessness because it was a really tough and scary time for me. I wouldn’t wish homelessness on anyone, especially a young person.
“I’m now living with my boyfriend but I have no clue how long I would’ve been rough sleeping on the streets for if I hadn’t met him. I imagine because of restrictions many people you wouldn’t believe were homeless felt embarrassed and humiliated by having to resort to living on the streets.”
The pandemic has certainly impacted the way young people can receive support. With huge increases in unemployment, mental health issues and housing troubles, young people are in dire need of donations to facilitate their support, opportunities and accommodation needs.
If you would like to help support Centrepoint and the young people at risk of homelessness please visit https://centrepoint.org.uk/donate/ or call the donation line on 0800 23 23 20.
Photo: Homeless person on the street