Like many this morning I woke up to headlines that the government plans to end rough sleeping by 2027, a move that many say is welcomed but which is certainly not a total fix.
So it was a depressing irony that I arrived to our centre this morning to find two young men bedded down outside in our small garden waiting for our drop-in to open. They’re not supposed to sleep there but if I was them I’d do the same. They feel safe in the centre so it makes sense they feel safe outside it when it’s not our opening hours, and probably better they sleep there than on the streets somewhere, vulnerable. It’s beyond stating the obvious to say that it would be much better if there was somewhere for them to actually stay, somewhere that they could really call home – you know, that human right thing. I mean this is 2018 and we live in London, the city we say is the greatest in the world and which we are told is open for all.
Sadly their story is all too common. We know because we see it every day - in 2017 alone New Horizon Youth Centre offered 1745 young people help to find a safe place to call home. Some will undoubtedly have slept rough but we know that many more are among the growing population of ‘hidden’ homeless, surviving by sofa surfing and sleeping on 24 hour transport, making do while rents here spiral and their dream of finding somewhere to live escapes them.
Young people are hidden
In September of last year the London Assembly estimated that 13 times more homeless people are hidden than visibly sleeping rough – as many as 12,500 each night – with young people most affected. They are less likely to know what statutory support is available to them and as such only one in five may present to a local authority as homeless. When they do present, even in these early days of the Homelessness Reduction Act, they are less likely to be deemed as priority need and can find themselves stuck in the system, endlessly awaiting a referral to a hostel.
I’ve spent the last month talking to the homelessness sector and policy makers about the lack of data available on youth homelessness here. Everyone knows it is a gap – indeed the London Assembly has asked the Mayor to lobby local authorities on this issue – and we need more than just estimates to make sure that resources for rough sleeping are going where they are most needed, including and especially for young people.
We need more emergency accommodation, we need more hostels, we need more homes and in the meantime and we need to take this seriously.
Phil Kerry, New Horizon Youth Centre's new CEO
Youth homelessness is overlooked
Because we don’t understand the scale of the issue it’s easy to ignore it, and like many of the initiatives we see in the area of homelessness I am concerned that today’s announcement will do very little for young people. There is some great work taking shape in London through collaborations between the Greater London Authority and Local Authorities but we have to keep asking whether the London Cross-Borough Accommodation Network, Capital Letters, or the award winning PLACE project in Lewisham are doing anything to support homeless people who are young and single.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising when the experts around the table on this Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy or the London Mayor’s No Nights Sleeping Rough Taskforce tend to be from the largest homelessness providers, who in turn do not work with young people. If we ask St Mungo’s, Shelter and Thames Reach for advice, then who is championing the specific and overlooked needs of young people in these strategies?
We need to build a future for young people in this city
The youth population in London is changing at an almost unprecedented rate. Almost a quarter of people living in London are under the age of 18, with a further 9% aged 18-24. They are growing up in a city that already has far too few affordable homes and far too many that are beyond their means to rent.
So yes, let’s think about rough sleeping and how we end it, and yes let’s think about young people as part of this but let’s also think about what happens when 2027 comes around and there still isn’t anywhere for young people to live. We need more emergency accommodation, we need more hostels, we need more homes and in the meantime and we need to take this seriously.
It took London less than seven years to get ready to host the 2012 Olympic Games, with an astonishing budget of almost £9billion made available for it to happen. Do we really have to wait 10 years for a partial fix to homelessness? If we don’t get a handle on the data and invest in the specific needs of young people for the future then it’s likely to take a lot longer than that.
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