Covid-19 has been driving young people onto the streets. In London alone, 1 in 10 of people sleeping rough are now under-25s. Who are these young people? What happens when they end up rough sleeping in the middle of a pandemic? What are the obstacles they face in trying to escape or avoid street homelessness?
In order to better understand what support is needed for young people sleeping rough, we sought to capture a snapshot of what we are seeing on the ground at New Horizon, using our data for the period between October and December 2020. During this time rough sleeping amongst young people new to our services was up by a staggering 20% compared to the previous year.
Looking closer at their circumstances and their journeys in and out of rough sleeping, we found that:
Particularly vulnerable cohorts of young people are increasingly sleeping rough and at risk
Compared to the previous year we are seeing more than double the number of young women without anywhere to stay. They are also younger, with an 11% increase in 18-21 year olds, and more than a third were just 18 or 19, an increase of 22%. 55% of the young people we supported to access emergency and medium-term accommodation have additional support needs, most commonly related to emotional wellbeing and mental health, and at least 26% have experienced complex trauma. Increasingly vulnerable young people are sleeping rough and they are missing out on much-needed support.
Young people are contacting their local councils more, but are not accessing support
65% of young people had already contacted their council before finding us, yet the vast majority did not access support or accommodation. There is evidently enormous untapped potential here to achieve better outcomes for young people.
Young people have increasingly fragmented pathways into emergency and long-term accommodation, exposing them to greater risk
66% of the young people we supported to access accommodation had to stay in backpackers’ hostels whilst they waited for other housing options, and by mid-January 2021 59% were still in emergency accommodation. The lack of adequate emergency accommodation for young people is not new, but as we show in this winter snapshot, it demands much greater urgency if we are to protect young people and offer sustainable pathways into secure housing.
This snapshot research indicates that tailoring rough sleeping services to the specific experiences and needs of young people is crucial to preventing and solving rough sleeping amongst under-25s. This cohort would benefit greatly from an end-to-end youth-specific process covering prevention, outreach, referral, and accommodation, and from further partnership work between voluntary sector providers and local authorities to remove the blockages in the system.
New Horizon has already asked government to invest in immediate and longer-term emergency accommodation provision and move-on options, and will continue to advocate for age-appropriate provision.
There is now a great opportunity, and even greater necessity, to include young people and youth specific provision firmly in immediate next steps, funding and strategic planning.
“I stayed in backpackers hostel for a week or two. They put me in a room with 6 people who had loud conversations until 2 or 3am and would fight. I was only getting 2.5 hours of sleep and it was really grinding me. I felt like I wanted to be on the street more. They were all older than me, and I felt like I couldn’t say anything. It really wasn’t helping with my anxiety.”
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