By Alex Stevens, Second Year Politics and International Relations
In November, a Stacey Dooley documentary titled ‘The Young and Homeless’ aired on BBC One for Children in Need. Shedding light on the issue of youth homelessness in the UK, Dooley gives a voice to the surging numbers of the young ‘hidden homeless’: those aged 16-24 who are not in plain sight sleeping rough, so are ignored by official statistics. Centrepoint reports this number to be 103,000 from 2017-18, up by 20,000 from the previous year, with it being widely accepted that Bristol is one of the worst affected cities.
'Centrepoint reports this number to be 103,000 from 2017-18...with it being widely accepted that Bristol is one of the worst affected cities.'
While adult homelessness is often the result of complex web of factors (whether that be domestic violence, mental health challenges, addiction), youth homelessness is distinct in that it is almost always brought about by family difficulties. Therefore, organisations supporting the young homeless tend see youth homelessness as preventative. Bristol Youth MAPS is commissioned by Bristol City Council in partnership with 1625 Independent People and is specifically focussed on the task of ‘mediation’ in families (where possible). As of January 2018, the service was helping 81 people, with the demand constantly increasing.
Where this isn’t safe, is a different picture. A person must be considered ‘statutory homeless’ before becoming ‘acceptances’ who are eligible for support from their local authority. This means that the criteria for what homelessness actually is, is determined by the government. Although the Homelessness Act of 2002 extended the ‘priority need’ categories to include those ‘aged 16-17’, and those ‘aged 18-20 who were previously in care’, other criteria still require the person to be ‘unintentionally homeless’ and lack a ‘reasonable place to stay’. Otherwise, the council grants £293 a month to help young people with rent. Against the average room in Bristol costing £770 per month, it is clear that this amount is insufficient.
'the council grants £293 a month to help young people with rent. Against the average room in Bristol costing £770 per month, it is clear that this amount is insufficient.'
Due to the bureaucratic and rigid nature of accessing support from local authorities, only 1 in 8 young people presented as homeless or at risk were provided with secure accommodation. Subsequently, the most progress is coming from the non-profit organisations who recognise the true prevalence of youth homelessness.
Another film created for Children in Need follows 18-year-old Imogen for 49 days from the day she becomes homeless in Bristol. Although most nights she is able to ‘sofa surf’, at other times she is forced to turn to other sources of help, on one occasion being provided with a place to stay by Bristol Nightstop: a project where volunteers host high-risk young people in need of emergency accommodation.
Ultimately, Imogen is given a place in a NextLink safehouse for £9.70 a week. Further to this, recent plans have been unveiled to build 11 temporary and affordable flats in Bedminster at 40% of the market rent. 1625IP is behind the project, along with property industry charity LandAid and Bath-based charity DHI- who hope that the scheme will be the first of many in the city providing longer-term solutions for young people who are homeless.
The redevelopment of a dilapidated building on East Street in Bedminster is due to start imminently. The East Street Mews initiative will create contemporary and affordable apartments for young homeless people in the city. #bristol #housing #socialhousing https://t.co/BLx9SN6DAe— Bright Green Futures (@BGF_Homes) December 27, 2018
Secure accommodation is one of the most important solutions to youth homelessness, as it enables young people to continue with the education and vocational training which will allow them to be financially independent in the future. For instance, Tymara Atkins received support from 1625IP, allowing her to ultimately graduate from Goldsmiths University with a high 2:1, returning to the organisation as a MAPS support worker.
It's getting colder, a dangerous time to be #homeless. If you know a #YoungPerson who is homeless or thinking of leaving home, send them to our MAPS office!— Independent People (@1625ip) January 3, 2019
That's the first port of call: https://t.co/Bi1iGONhf2 #EndYouthHomelessness #Prevention #YoungLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/KX7oPpxpe7
However, accommodation and education it is not the only challenge which young people may face. On day 32 of being homeless, Imogen attempts to throw herself into the River Avon; over 80% of young people without a home struggle with mental health issues exacerbated by their circumstances. The stigma surrounding homelessness may give people a sense that they’ve lost their pride, with Imogen speaking about how families would pull their children away from her while walking past. Earlier in 2018, Cabot tanning salon Consol was criticised for installing ‘anti-homeless sprinklers’ outside of their premises, essentially punishing people for being homeless.
'Secure accommodation is one of the most important solutions to youth homelessness, as it enables young people to continue with the education and vocational training which will allow them to be financially independent in the future.'
Despite the improvements in awareness for the hidden homeless and youth homelessness in Bristol, the only real support for those facing it is coming from non-profit organisations who depend on donors to run. The uncertainty of this source of finance has caused multiple Bristol shelters and projects to close in recent months, such as the Wild Goose Café and Chandos House, with Feed the Homeless writing an open letter to Mayor Marvin Reeves, calling the events an “emergency situation”. While a law was passed in April requiring councils to make housing for all young people a top priority, Bristol council is also planning on cutting £500,000 out of the budget for households who have recently become homeless, among other cuts to housing support services, illustrating the fact that authorities need to admit the reality of homelessness today (notably the younger people who fail to meet official criteria), to build a more solid support system for homeless people of all ages.
Featured Image: Flickr / drewbeck