In a speech this morning the Mayor of London highlighted the structural drivers of serious youth violence, such as poverty, social exclusion, and cuts in public services, and called for a public health approach to prevent and reduce violent youth offending. The speech coincided with the launch of the Greater London Authority analysis of multi-agency data relevant to help to shape such an approach.
At New Horizon we welcome the Mayor’s call for a public health approach and acknowledge the importance of addressing the underlying structural causes and barriers. We believe no young person should be or feel unsafe, and that all young people deserve the services and support they need in their journey into adulthood.
Our model and learning
We have worked intensively with over 2,000 of the most vulnerable children and young people in London impacted by and involved in serious youth violence and offending for the last 7 years, both in community and prison settings.
In our pioneering and successful model we work closely with the young person on a long term basis, building a relationship of trust, and help them around their mental and emotional health needs, together with practical issues such as housing, safety and employability. Supported by the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund, we work with such young people across the capital, including many of the boroughs with high levels of both poverty and serious youth violence.
Time and again we see that multiple deprivation, cuts in youth services, and lack of education and employment opportunities are strongly connected to the problems of these young people. With many also suffering childhood trauma, the lack of mental health provision in the community and criminal justice system is a further significant hurdle for these young people in accessing the help they need.
In delivering these services we notice that accommodation is one of the key problems; an issue also addressed in a report launched by Centrepoint today. While the Mayor mentioned bad housing in his speech and the GLA data analysis looks at multiple deprivation, our learning shows that accommodation deserves more explicit attention in both understanding and addressing serious youth violence.
Linking housing with serious youth violence
Housing issues for young people affected by youth violence and criminal exploitation are hugely under-reported. Many will have experienced homelessness or unstable housing in childhood or are living in overcrowded or difficult circumstances in their family home. Often they try to source their own, usually totally inappropriate, accommodation such as sofa surfing and staying in unsafe places. A lot of the young people tell us that their involvement in county lines activity is motivated by a lack of accommodation: it simply provides them with a roof over their head.
While housing is part of the complex causes of serious youth violence, it is also very much an obstacle in preventing or reducing it. The significant lack of appropriate and affordable accommodation in London is of course already a real issue for 18-25 year olds in general, let alone when they are leaving prison or might be deemed high risk by accommodation providers and local authorities on the basis of their offending histories. We regularly advocate for children and young people who are unfortunately viewed as perpetrators only, seen to be solely responsible for their situation, without consideration of the underlying factors, vulnerabilities, traumas or having been a victim of violence themselves.
We also see that having stabbing or shooting injuries, fleeing violence on the streets or being at an incredibly high risk of becoming a victim of gang affiliated activities do not give these young people priority housing need when presenting as homeless at their local authority. As such we think a change in defining and interpreting priority need is essential in order to address serious youth violence and keep young people safe.
Similar obstacles arise from the local borough connection of a young person, which often restricts where they might be able to get accommodation to the areas where it is in fact most unsafe for them to stay. Local authorities need to work closer together to overcome such limitations, and become more incentivised to get much smoother, more functional reciprocal housing agreements in place.
This is not to say that relocation or accommodation in isolation is the solution. Through extensive experience we know that an offer of safe accommodation in a safe area can only be successful when accompanied by a holistic and long-term package of support, helping young people to successfully resettle and fill the gap left by exiting their old lifestyle.
Tackling the root causes
As a member of the Mayor’s London Housing Panel, we are pleased to have the opportunity to raise such accommodation needs of the most vulnerable young people and to help them have their voices heard in London housing policies. Safe accommodation is the foundation for the support we offer emotionally, mentally and practically. It should be part of any approach to understanding and addressing serious youth violence, and be part of the focus on tackling the root causes the Mayor and Greater London Authority were right to raise today.
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