Being young and homeless is one of the most difficult hardships to overcome. Having been homeless at 17-years-old, the social stigma was worsened by the fact the local authority at the time did very little to help me because of my age and the fact I was intentionally homeless. It is evident that not much has changed eight years later and it has become increasingly apparent that charities and third sector organisations are better able to provide help to single, young homeless people than local authorities, but thousands are still left without a home.
As a teenager in Norfolk, having no home due to a family breakdown (the most common reason for homelessness in the UK) lead to sofa-surfing, sleeping on park benches or walking the entire night on the same route for fear of being attacked whilst asleep. Trying to juggle A Levels was made more difficult with the lack of support from school. Shoplifting was the only viable way of being fed and clothed. Looking for a home was largely a solitary affair.
The most valuable support came from a local homeless charity Purfleet Trust and from the youth support service Connexions which has since closed down due to public spending cuts. What was evident at the time was that it wasn’t so much that no one was trying to help but no one could help; public bodies, like schools, are ill-prepared for the difficulty of providing necessary aid to vulnerable young people on the brink of homelessness. What’s even more worrying is the absence of counselling available to safeguard a homeless person’s mental wellbeing; the humiliation and despair of having no roof over my head was at times unbearable.
Many young adults today facing homelessness feel they are not receiving enough support from their council, a verdict reinforced by the findings of the nationwide report published by charity Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) earlier this year. It revealed nine out of ten English councils often (54 per cent) or sometimes (34 per cent) found it difficult to provide ‘meaningful help’ to single homeless people aged 25 – 34. In 2015, there were 275,000 recorded cases of homelessness in England with the number of rough sleepers increasing by 55 per cent under the coalition government.
Homelessness breeds a culture of criminality. Young people accounted for the majority of arrests made last year by West Midlands Police of people who were registered as homeless or with no fixed abode/address. Figures show that of the 3,510 homeless people arrested last year 20 per cent were aged between 25 – 29.
Homeless charity Shelter – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – dealt with 2,286 cases of homelessness in the West Midlands in 2015, with the hardest hit age bracket being 25-34 who accounted for just over a third of cases. These figures coupled with the cutback of public spending on vital services provided by third sector organisations are a cause of considerable concern.
In 2015, Birmingham City Council received 5,532 homeless applications. Councillor John Cotton believes practical support for the homeless can be achieved by working closely with charities and organisations across the city.
He said: “Despite a host of initiatives designed to help, Birmingham has seen evidence of national trends at a local level, such as an increase in street sleepers.
“We have therefore conducted a comprehensive analysis with partner agencies of both street sleepers and across all aspect of homelessness and have made housing and homelessness priorities for the city. We will be working even harder with agencies and the voluntary sector to harness the collective resources in the city.”
But for those already without a home the support cannot come soon enough. Tony Brown, 28, suffers from mental health issues and is currently staying in shared accommodation in Birmingham provided by a housing association. He had previously moved around 18 council properties, sofa-surfing between family and friends and slept on the streets.
He said: “Whilst I was sleeping on the streets people have attacked me, jumped on me, spat on me, or ignored me. They don’t care.
“The council offer little help for young people. I do not receive support for day-to-day things.
“The previous properties I have stayed at I received death threats from the people I shared the house with. The council did not help me with that.”
The majority of councils are backing changes in the law to reflect those adopted in Wales, where anyone who is facing a loss of their home can receive assistance and not just those deemed as a ‘priority’ like families with children. But austerity measures since the coalition government six years ago has played a hand in the rising number of young homeless people in the UK; with the scrapping of maintenance grants and reduced welfare and social housing, more people are heavily relying on food banks to make up for increasing living costs. Investments must be made to provide reliable services for young homeless people who are left with little means to help themselves.