by Phil Kerry, Chief Executive
Life is not linear. Nobody knows that better than the young people who come to New Horizon Youth Centre.
While the thousands of stories they tell us every year are as different as they can be, one thing unites them: their current experiences of homelessness do not define them or where they will end up. Indeed, as one of the young members of our Women’s Group told us, sometimes you have got to go through the darkness to get to the light.
The last two years have brought unprecedented challenges to us all but young people have felt it particularly acutely. Two thirds have had their jobs prospects impacted, three quarters report poor mental wellbeing and as many as 40% of young Londoners did not feel they had anywhere safe or stable to stay. It’s no wonder that 17,000 young people approached their council because they were or were about to be homeless. Shockingly over 1,000 of them ended up sleeping rough on the capital’s streets.
Amongst this backdrop, New Horizon has been considering how best to respond. Through the summer and autumn of 2021, we spoke with national and local government, the wider homelessness sector, staff and, of course, young people to consider the challenges faced and the solutions our new strategy needs to address. The external challenges are deep and plentiful, but we exit the pandemic with valuable learning from the extraordinary circumstances we have all had to work through and with insights that will drive working practice for years to come. We are seeing new groups of young people coming to us for support, new ways that they want to access this support and new ways that we can offer it. We have been forced to adapt at speed but in doing so have accelerated ourselves into a modern era of service provision.
As we all emerge into the ‘new normal’, it is critical that we ensure that young people, especially those experiencing homelessness, those who have been systemically denied a voice, are front and centre of thinking and investment. The severity of the situation demands a bolder and bigger response than we might previously have conceived necessary, and this response will require us to grow – in every sense of the word. We need to grow our staff headcount so that we can keep up with the demand for our services. We need to further invest in our policy and comms work so that we can campaign even harder. We need to invest more in our staff and look after them as they take on this challenge. And we need to do more to bring young people and all of our partners with us on the journey.
We all know that Covid-19 has changed everything, but a central truth remains in the capital. Far too many young people find themselves unhoused, unsupported and unsafe. Now is the time to right this wrong and ensure that every young Londoners’ potential has a home. We hope that you’ll join us.