Since I recently joined The Clock Tower Sanctuary as a Trustee, I have been learning about how young people find themselves in a situation where they are homeless. Through this research, I have found that there are a lot of people who find they are homeless and hide that fact. There are also lots of ways in which people can not appear in the official numbers of homeless people. Here’s one story I came across about a woman, Anita, who is part of Brighton’s ’hidden homeless’ population.
Anita dodges questions about where she lives as much as possible. She lives wherever she can. Sometimes that’s on a mate’s sofa, sometimes it’s with a man she’s just met, at other times she finds herself without a bed for the night. All of these options are better than staying in the relationship she was in. Leaving that relationship meant leaving her home, but it’s a choice she felt she had to make.
Anita’s story is not an unusual one. There are no official figures about the number of people who are experiencing hidden homelessness (although Centrepoint estimates that 121,000 young people are at risk of homelessness in the UK). The young people we help might be rough sleeping but they also could be sleeping on a sofa or floor; living in tents or caravans or in hostels or in emergency accommodation. They are often women, people from the LGBTQ+ community or people from minority groups.
For many of the young people we work with, relationship breakdown is the reason they have become homeless. Sadly, this is more common for clients who identify as LGBTQ+ or those who have experienced restrictive or abusive family environments. Homelessness can also happen through loss of a flatmate, or loss of a job which means that someone can no longer pay their bills, as we saw during the early days of the pandemic, particularly for young people who are often on ‘zero hours contracts’.
Brighton & Hove is an area with one of the highest numbers of people who are homeless. These are people who seek help, use local services or are recorded through other official sources. However, the real numbers would be even higher when taking into account hidden homelessness.
Housing costs are high in Brighton & Hove and the insecurity of housing with rising costs means that many people find they are pushed into situations which mean they have to leave their home. And when they do, often people feel embarrassed, or simply do not know what to do. So, they rely on being able to stay hidden, by staying with different people, to avoid having to declare they are homeless.
In 2020 as we went into Covid restrictions and lockdowns, evictions were suspended which gave people some security. Since 1 June 2021, landlords have been able to legally resume evictions again. Initially in 2020 there was also a policy called ‘Everyone In’ to provide housing for everyone so that people could isolate. Now that has come to an end too and we are worried that more young people will be forced back onto the streets, or to find ways to stay in places hiding their status as homeless. Incidences of domestic violence were also more widespread during the pandemic. We have seen an 11% increase in female clients this year and some of these young women had experienced domestic violence.
At the same time, during 2020 and 2021, house prices have risen considerably in Brighton and Hove. The city has become a place that even more people want to move to as they seek a change in lifestyle. This means that rents have increased too. Some landlords have decided to increase rents by finding new tenants, or opted to sell rental properties. Add to that the furlough scheme coming to an end and the reduction in Universal Credit and there could be soon many more young people who are working but unable to afford housing due to increasing prices. In 2019-20, 15% of our clients were in work and were vulnerably housed or homeless. And once in this situation, it’s tough to find a way out.
So, what can people who are in this situation do, and what can others to do help them? For young people who find themselves at risk of homelessness, it’s practical and emotional support that they most need. The Clock Tower Sanctuary works with 16-25 year olds who are in temporary or emergency accommodation, or sofa surfing, or who are rough sleeping. As well as daily hot meals and food parcels, washing and laundry facilities, computers and help with finding work, training and housing, we offer an inclusive, friendly community for young adults to find support and friendships.
And if you want to offer your help, please consider making a donation here. The Clock Tower Sanctuary receives no statutory funding, and we rely entirely on the generosity of our supporters to keep our services running. Thank you.
Mo Kanjilal, Trustee