To what extent does current rough sleeping evidence do justice to understanding the number of young people sleeping on our streets? How might young people’s experiences of street homelessness make them less visible in statistics – and with that in policy, decision-making and service development? These were some of the questions which leading London youth homelessness organisations, the Greater London Authority, local authorities, the MHCLG and other stakeholders explored together.
Chaired by Phil Kerry, CEO of New Horizon, the Young People Sleeping Rough Sub-Group conducted its research on behalf of the Mayor’s Life Off the Streets Taskforce in 2019. Following an invitation by the then Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, the sub-group aimed to get a more accurate picture of scale of rough sleeping among 18-25-year-olds and the services they need.
More precisely it set out to:
The findings of the sub-group are now available in its report.
DOWNLOAD THE REPORT
The work of the sub-group involved an extensive data dive, uniquely combining data from CHAIN, StreetLink, local authorities and youth homelessness providers, a co-produced survey of young people with experience of rough sleeping and stakeholder discussions. The sub-group identified that:
1. There is a need to ensure that data recording helps to identify the total number of young people sleeping rough and why they are doing so
The reports shows there is a need and scope to improve data collection across youth homelessness providers, local authorities and the official London CHAIN rough sleeping database. This would help to develop a more robust indication of the number and experiences of young people sleeping rough in the capital, and increase the likelihood that they get the support and outcomes they need.
2. Young people may sleep rough in ways that mean they are less likely to be visible and therefore secure help
The report shows that young people deal with their street homelessness differently and in ways that make them less visible to the outreach teams: 67% of the survey respondents mentioned that they have not bedded down. This makes them less likely to access essential services and to be verified as rough sleepers on the CHAIN database.
The sub-group work further suggests that young people might have more and longer spells of sleeping rough than the official data indicates.
3. Improving prevention and awareness of homelessness and services
The report points out that many young people tend to be hidden homeless before becoming street homeless, and highlights the need for better prevention services: 43% of respondents had sought help from their local council prior to sleeping rough for the first time. Moreover, if this age group is less visible to outreach teams, then it is all the more important that they can become more easily aware of support structures.
4. Young people with different characteristics may have different experiences of sleeping rough
The sub-group identified differences between age groups, gender, sexuality and those with care leaving status, for instance in terms of their routes into street homelessness and the frequency and length of sleeping rough. Such differences need to be considered in the development of appropriate, effective youth-focused support.
5. A need to invest in the availability of specialist supported accommodation for young people
The sub-group noted the ongoing challenges in finding young people who are sleeping rough somewhere safe to stay, particularly in emergency situations. Its work also highlighted that accommodation should be youth-specific: 74% of survey respondents reported more positive experiences in accommodation for young people.
Members of the sub-group have committed to continue to work together to improve the support and outcomes for young people sleeping rough.
Understanding the number and needs of young people sleeping rough has become more pertinent than ever. During the pandemic more young people have started to face homelessness, many ending up street homeless. In the first three months of lockdown, according to the official CHAIN database, 449 under-25s were reported to be sleeping rough in London alone; an 81% increase compared to the same period in 2019.
These are just the official numbers; the actual scale might be larger still – or so the findings of the Young People Sleeping Rough Sub-Group in this report suggest.
Download the report here.
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