Thursday, June 25, 2015

Increase in Young People Rough Sleeping is a Wake-up Call for Politicians

It should be unimaginable that any young person has to spend a single night on the streets. However the phenomenon of rough sleeping is seemingly becoming ever more entrenched in our society; and it's affecting the younger generation in greater numbers each year. 
We see evidence of this in the latest Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) report. This report, released yesterday (18 June 2015) by the Greater London Authority (GLA), records the number of verified rough sleepers in London across 2014/15. 
This year, it showed that 871 people aged between 18 and 25-years-old slept rough at least once in the capital between April 2014 and March 2015; a 16% rise on 2013/14 and 40% higher than in 2011/12.
While these figures are worrying in themselves, it is crucial to remember that they only present a partial picture of the current homelessness crisis that covers all areas of the country, not just London.
We are the largest voluntary sector provider of safe and supported accommodation for young people across the country and we provide almost 10,000 beds every single night. Through this support, staff at YMCAs see each day the damaging effects that life on the streets can have on the lives and prospects of young people. 
At YMCA, we believe every young person should have a safe and stable place to stay. However, the problem of young people rough sleeping is only likely to be exacerbated with the potential Housing Benefit cuts for 18 to 21-year-olds on Jobseeker's Allowance outlined in the Queen's Speech, in May.

You can watch YMCA's response to these changes in our video here: .

Removing automatic entitlement to Housing Benefit from the group, which arguably consists of some of the most vulnerable people in our country, will likely force more young people into damaging and dangerous rough sleeping and put added pressure on the already overstretched street homelessness teams that work up and down the country to help people leave the streets. 
For many people, homelessness - whether it be in the form of rough sleeping, sofa surfing or residing hostels - is not a one-off experience. Indeed, those people who first become homeless at a young age are likely to repeat it later on in life. Accordingly, people who first become homeless between the ages of 18 and 20 are three times more likely to experience five or more homeless occurrences than those first becoming homeless over the age of 40*. 
It is, therefore, crucial the young people who have successfully made it off the streets get the support they need to stay off them for good and truly fulfil their potential.
Housing Benefit plays a crucial part in this support. It is not just a safety net for society's most vulnerable but a springboard, which allows young people to achieve their aspirations. 
YMCAs intensively support 228,000 young people every year through accommodation, health and wellbeing services, mental health provisions and training and education courses. For many of the young people with whom we work, it is accommodation that is the starting point from which their journey into employment begins. 
These latest statistics should act as a wake-up call for the Government on the scale of the problem that is currently being faced. 
Commitments to end homelessness risk becoming merely rhetoric unless real action is taken. While street homelessness teams and programmes such as the Mayor of London's No Second Night Out are doing phenomenal work getting young people off the street, the Government must also give ample attention to preventative measures, which stop people becoming homeless in the first place. This includes abolishing the commitment to end automatic entitlement to Housing Benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds on Jobseeker's Allowance, which is giving some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society the opportunity to thrive.