It is both fitting and an honour that the London Assembly and Sian Berry chose our centre to host the launch of their Hidden Homelessness Report.
The report's findings highlight precisely what we at New Horizon Youth Centre have been consistently telling government and the mayor’s office: young people are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis, but their homelessness is not visible on the streets.
There is an urgent need for a policy rethink to put resources into truly affordable housing, as most young people will not meet the Local Authority high vulnerability threshold but will end up homeless. It is now estimated that there are thirteen times more hidden homeless people in London than those sleeping rough, with 225,000 young people in London having stayed in an unsafe place because they had nowhere safe to call home. We support thousands of 18-21 year olds in this situation every year.
Private accommodation is prohibitively expensive for young people who are likely to be earning a minimum wage of under six pounds per hour, and who are often employed on zero-hour contracts. Housing benefit should make up the shortfall but under the new Universal Credit system it can take 6 weeks or longer to secure, with the result that landlords are now refusing to rent to young people for fear of them being unable to pay.
We are doing our best to highlight this crisis with both policy-makers and the public. Our #sofachange campaign, a travelling exhibition which has been installed at The British Library, Tate Modern and Google among others, encourages the public to consider young people forced to ‘sofa-surf’. Our statistics show that this last-ditch solution for those in desperate circumstances is reaching epidemic levels.
As New Horizon Youth Centre CEO Shelagh O'Connor states: “We are proud to host the launch of this report, which demonstrates the scale of Hidden Homelessness in London and calls attention to the fact that young people especially are being made homeless by a “perfect storm” of high rents, low youth wages and a welfare system that is not functioning as the safety net these people desperately need. We need pan-London action to secure resources, land, capital, and innovative responses. Local Authorities need to direct people to homeless organisations like New Horizon Youth Centre, who are best placed to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place – often young people do not know what is available or what they may be entitled to. Working together we can make a difference”.
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