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Two young people were tightly wrapped up in their sleeping bags outside our day centre this morning. Temperatures had been close to freezing point throughout the night. Heart-breaking as it is to see young people focusing on mere survival, it was also a relief:  it meant we could start linking them in with the Covid-19 support for those sleeping rough.

Of course this morning the news also broke that the government had written to local authorities to urge them to get everyone sleeping rough off the streets by this weekend. We have been encouraged by the work that has already been happening across London to this end and to see many accessing hotel rooms as spaces of comfort and self-isolation. Throughout we have been proactively liaising with the Greater London Authority and Camden Councils to find ways to collaborate on keeping one of most vulnerable groups as safe as possible during the pandemic.

We are however concerned that many young people are at risk of being overlooked in this process.The provision is out there and improving now, but the doors remain closed for some 18-25 year olds. In the last few days we have become aware of young people who are still on the streets but are struggling to access the specialist services. Others might become locked out simply because we might not really know who or where they are.

Young people's experiences of sleeping rough

This is a youth specific issue we have been looking into last year. We have been working with the Mayor’s Life Off the Streets Taskforce, the MHCLG, local authorities and other youth homelessness organisations on getting a clearer picture of the numbers of young people sleeping rough in the capital. This youth sub group also aimed to get a better understanding of the reasons and patterns of rough sleeping of 18-25 year olds, and the best ways of supporting them.

We will be publishing a report of our findings later this spring, and take forward important actions, but some of the learning is very pertinent now - none so much as the insight that many young people might be invisible to services and are about to lose out on life-saving accommodation and support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Having drilled into the data and heard from young people directly via a survey, the Mayor’s Young People Sleeping Rough sub group found for instance that:

  • Young people deal with life on the streets in such ways that they might be less likely to be found by or link in with outreach services. They often won’t be bedding down or, if they do, they will sleep in particularly secluded places to keep themselves out of sight.
  • They also tend to struggle to find appropriate support or services, and may therefore simply never come onto the radar of councils or any of the homelessness agencies.
  • Different groups of young people have different experiences of rough sleeping, especially young women, those with care histories, 18-19 year olds, and LGBT+ young people. Each of these groups are particularly vulnerable.

Priorities

As they might be tucked away and unaware where to find help, it must now be a priority that those young people still on the streets are identified quickly. They should also be helped directly into appropriate accommodation, like hotel rooms, with suitable support as part of the Covid-19 emergency measures. Others are still in shelters and are at risk of becoming street homeless again without the hotel move on, and should be prioritised now too.

We were glad to find those two young people at our door this morning. Sadly our day centre is closed because of Covid-19, but luckily we were able to help them find somewhere safe to stay during this time of uncertainty. We will continue to support them, and many other young people, for as long as needed, working closley within a broad and committed cross-sector network across London.

 

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