Why are young people homeless?
No young person chooses to be homeless. And yet, we are seeing lots more clients come to us for help. Why?
What does being 'homeless' mean?
Being homeless means not having a safe, secure and private place to call your own. About a third of the young people we help are rough sleeping, so this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Many more are considered to be part of the 'hidden homeless' - they might be sleeping on a floor or 'sofa-surfing'; living in a temporary hostel, or somewhere else that isn't a proper and permanent home.
If this is your life, you're always having to move. You have nowhere to call your own or a place to feel secure; nowhere to keep your belongings safe. It can be dangerous - you are more likely to be the victim of violence if you're homeless. And you are also vulnerable to exploitation by others.
Being homeless also makes it harder to get the support you need. Without a permanent address, you can't register with a GP, claim benefits, or in most cases, find a job.
The young people who come to us for help are often struggling with their mental health and their physical health can be suffering too, particuarly if they are sleeping outside.
They usually have very little money and nowhere else to turn. They have often been let down by adults in their lives and can find it hard to trust others. Many have experienced trauma in their early lives.
How do young people end up homeless?
One of the main reasons young people become homeless is family and relationship breakdown. This could mean that they've been asked to leave; their home is not a safe place to stay anymore or because of:
- new family relationships which can cause tensions and arguments
- domestic violence which puts young people at risk
- drug and alcohol misuse by those who are meant to care for young people
- problems with mental and emotional health
- being a care leaver
- a lack of living space, which means young people are asked to leave.
A significant number of the young people we support have been in care. Young people leaving care can often have a harder time as they try and set up their own homes without any support. Research by Centrepoint among young people who had left care found that 26% had sofa surfed and 14% had slept rough. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and addiction can play a part in becoming homeless and when you are homeless you are also more likely to suffer from poor mental health, due to the chaos and stress of living in such precarious situations. Centrepoint research found that:
of young homeless people have a diagnosed mental health problem or symptoms of poor mental health
have experienced suicidal thoughts
have attempted suicide
Youth homelessness in Brighton & Hove
According to Shelter, Brighton & Hove has the fourth highest homeless population outside of London ('This is England: A picture of homelessness in 2019', Shelter 2019). There are a number of social and economic reasons why the city is so badly impacted:
- High housing costs: the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat in Brighton is around £1,000; a room in a flatshare might cost £500-800 a month. To put that in context, a 21-year old earning the minimum wage will take home around £1,100 a month. Some of our clients are working, but they are homeless because they cannot afford the deposit or rent on a flat in the private sector. House prices are some of the highest in the UK. According to the ONS, the property price to earnings ratio in Brighton & Hove is 12.5 - you need 12 times your salary to purchase the average house. Most young people don't have access to deposits for either rented or buying property, so they are caught in a trap of insecurity.
- Housing shortage: Brighton & Hove is a popular place to live but because it's between a National Park and the sea, it's hard to build new houses. There's also a lack of social housing. Because of this shortage, rents in the private sector are high.
- Rising poverty and reduced benefits: poverty is rising among working age people, ('Workers in Poverty', Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2017). And housing benefit changes have impacted badly on young people, making it harder to find somewhere affordable to live.
- Cuts to mental health services: reduced Government grants means access to mental health care and assistance is not as easily available. Some young people aren't getting help early enough and the knock-on effects of this can result in them becoming homeless.
- Problems in other parts of the country: some young people who come to us for help are fleeing from gang violence in other cities.
- Covid-19 job losses: Young people have been hit particularly hard by the labour market fallout from the pandemic, accounting for nearly half of job losses despite only representing 1 in 9 of those in work, ('An Unequal Crisis', Institute for Employment Studies, 2021).