Christmas is well and truly over, resolutions are already falling by the wayside and emails are starting with ‘Hi’ rather than ‘Happy New Year’.
It’s clear that January is well underway, and while there wasn’t a day in December without a news story about the increase in rough sleeping, press and public interest in the issue has since waned. Sadly the same cannot be said for the challenges facing our young people, which remain as urgent as ever.
I began last week by visiting Camden Council which, alongside every other Local Authority, is under pressure to put in place a statutory homelessness and rough sleeping plan this year in line with the government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy. Camden’s draft measures seem far-reaching and in many ways ambitious. We’re especially glad that they’ve taken up our offer to host a roundtable to listen to young people’s experiences of homelessness, as all too often with governmental strategies those under 25 are an afterthought.
One reason for this could be the fact that young people rough sleeping are being missed in official statistics. According to the CHAIN Database for rough sleeping counts, 615 young people (8% of the total) found themselves sleeping on London’s streets in 2017/18 but our experiences tell us that the true number is likely to be much higher. In 2018 NHYC supported 320 young people who were or had been rough sleeping and our preliminary research suggests that about 75% may not be recorded on the official CHAIN database.
"All too often with governmental strategies those under 25 are an afterthought. One reason for this could be the fact that young people rough sleeping are being missed in official statistics..."
Phil Kerry, New Horizon Youth Centre CEO
We’ve talked a lot in the past about hidden homelessness as it pertains to young people sofa surfing, but we know that young peoples’ experiences of rough sleeping are often invisible too. They tell us they don’t feel safe or want the stigma of bedding down in public places, choosing instead to walk the streets, spend nights on buses or - as one young man told me - sleep behind bins in a Big Yellow Storage far from sight.
In our day centre however their suffering can at times be very visible. I often see young people at closing time upset and afraid to head out onto the streets for another night with nowhere to go. Young people often get despondent about how they will get through a night in the rain and cold, asking for a second sleeping bag in an effort to keep warm. Despite our best efforts there just aren't enough spaces in suitable shelters for all the people who come to us for support. This is heart-breaking for everyone but it’s also fundamentally wrong that young people should be in this situation in a city like London.
Next week we and other providers will begin to try and unravel this as a new youth focused sub group of the Mayor’s No Nights Sleeping Rough taskforce commences. We are very pleased that the GLA recognise that until we know the extent of the problem we will never have the right resources in place to tackle it.
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