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Understanding youth homelessness in the UK – a conversation with Centrepoint

Tonight, we’re participating in Centrepoint’s annual Sleep Out, to raise funds and awareness of youth homelessness in the UK. As a housing company, based in one of the most urbanised cities in the world, London – homelessness is a cause we’re passionate about, especially amongst young people. And we’re doing something about it. The Sleep Out fundraiser brings people from all over London to spend a night sleeping outside on a cold November night on Greenwich Peninsula, coming together as a team, and learning more about the issue of youth homelessness. Get involved and sponsor Team Collective to Sleep Out tonight.

An estimated 103,000 struggling young people asked for help from their local council last year – and more than half were left without any meaningful support. The rise of youth homelessness is further perpetuated by cuts in government funding, domestic violence and lack of affordable housing, leaving vulnerable youths with no place to call home.

To shed light on the crucial issue of youth homelessness. I had a chat with Paul Noblet at Centrepoint, the charity organisers of the Sleep Out, and voice for homeless youths in the UK.

What are the most reported causes for the rise in youth homelessness in London and the UK?

The majority of young people come to Centrepoint due to a breakdown in their relationship with their family. Reasons for family breakdown vary massively, but examples include arguments over sexuality or religious beliefs, or violence or substance misuse in the family home. The economic pressures resulting from changes to benefits have contributed to the rise in youth homelessness, as has the failure to build enough truly affordable housing.

How does Centrepoint support and empower homeless young people to change their narrative?

We support and provide not only a safe place to stay, but we also support young people to tackle any physical or mental health problems they have. Our vision for every young person we support is that they should leave Centrepoint with the ability to live independently and enter and sustain training or employment. To achieve this, we have teams who support young people with gaining qualifications such as GCSE Maths and English, as well as helping them undertake traineeship qualifications.

What practical and emotional support can I as an individual and member of The Collective provide to support your mission to eradicate youth homelessness in London and the UK?

The public play a massive role in supporting Centrepoint to work with homeless young people. Without their support as mentors, as employers who can offer work opportunities, and as donors, Centrepoint simply could not help as many young people as we do. Additionally, members of the public can help if they are concerned about a young person who is at risk of homelessness, is sofa-surfing, or even sleeping rough on the streets. We would encourage people to call the Centrepoint helpline or Streetlink to make sure young people can get support they need as quickly as possible.

How has the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act in April 2018 improved the issue of homelessness? Is the council doing their part to prevent and eradicate youth homelessness?

The Act does mean that more people will receive support, but they still won’t automatically be housed, as the law is drawn really tightly so only those young people who meet the narrow criteria are accommodated. In the long-term, changing the law to house more people is the aim – alongside building more truly affordable homes to prevent homelessness in the first place. In the short-term, we are concerned that local councils have been given new responsibilities through the Act – but not enough money to deliver support.

Your research estimated that 103,000 young people asked for help from their local council in 2017-18 and more than half were left without any meaningful, documented support. What is Centrepoint doing to address this issue?

Centrepoint created the Youth Homelessness Databank in 2014 because no one was counting how many people that were homeless or at risk of homelessness went to their local council for help. Now, through the new Homelessness Reduction Act – which Centrepoint helped to make law – every young person who approaches their council has to be formally assessed. This doesn’t always mean they will be housed, but they now have to be properly advised and supported.

However, we are concerned that Councils simply need more money to support all the people that come to them for housing and support – this is something we are talking to politicians about at both a national and local level. 

If we were to meet again exactly 5 years from now, what must have happened for Centrepoint to have achieved its mission to eradicate youth homelessness in London and the UK?

In recent months, the government has taken steps towards addressing youth homelessness, but there is still a huge task ahead.

During the past decade, we have seen a huge amount of funding removed for tackling the problem – this means that sometimes there isn’t anywhere suitable for a struggling young person to go. At the other end, too often young people become trapped in supported accommodation because there is nowhere affordable for them to move out to, including a room in shared accommodation.

There is also the fundamental problem that benefit levels – particularly for under-25s who receive both lower rates of universal credit and of minimum wage – are now far below the cost of living and cost of rented housing.

If we are to have got anywhere near eradicating youth homelessness in the next five years, we will need to have seen a big increase in funding for benefits, emergency accommodation, and truly affordable housing.

If you or someone you know is sleeping rough, sofa-surfing or at risk for homelessness, visit Centrepoint’s helpline or call  0808 800 0661 for support and advice.