Earlier this year, national charity Centrepoint estimated that 129,000 young people approached their local council for help to avoid becoming homeless in 2022.
Broken down that is 353 young people a day, or a new young person every four minutes.
While this number is huge, lots of charities say it’s just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to the real figures. That’s because thousands more young people are classed as being ‘hidden homeless.’ They stay with friends to avoid sleeping rough and haven’t contacted their local council, so won’t be included in official statistics.
Many of these people are also care leavers, young people who were previously ‘children of the state’ but aged out of the system when they turned 18. They face the worries and challenges that any young person does, with the added pressure of finding somewhere to live, paying bills and managing a home independently.
Anna Mather is Operations Manager for our young person’s service, which supports over 30 care leavers in Stoke-on-Trent. She’s shared her thoughts on the figures and explained why we need to ‘listen to the voices’ of young people when making decisions that impact them.
“129,000 is a heartbreaking number, but it isn’t surprising to me,” said Anna.
“Working within Concrete’s young person’s service, we see just how many people are facing homelessness in Stoke-on-Trent, let alone the rest of the country.
“As a service we currently work with 31 young people in the city. Since July 2022 we’ve supported 46 and had over 85 referrals. The demand is high – we often say that if we were to double our capacity, it still wouldn’t be enough.
“With that in mind, while the stats show that over 100,000 young people approached their council for housing help last year, the actual number is likely to be much higher.
“I find the term ‘hidden homelessness’ concerning because no one is truly hidden. However, there are people being discounted from official figures because they are staying with friends and not presenting to their local authority for help.
“Sadly, until there’s systematic change, coupled with the current cost-of-living crisis, I predict that the number of young people impacted by homelessness will continue to grow.”
In terms of the reasons for youth homelessness, Anna says that they are extensive.
“People can experience homelessness at a young age because of relationship breakdowns, including within a family, overcrowding in family homes, mental health issues, being unable to manage a tenancy and not having a safety net of support. But for us, the main cause we see is being a care leaver.
“They experience the same pressures as any other teenager, but with the added stress of the local authority no longer fulfilling the ‘parental role’ for them. Their 18th birthday is not a time for celebration, but rather a time to start focusing on finding somewhere safe to live.
“Many care leavers have been through various placements, some of which have gone well, others that have broken down. Even at their young age, they are already used to experiencing lots of moves, different workers and being involved with various support services and agencies.
“They face challenges that most other young people never have to think about. They ask questions like: where is my next food shop coming from? How will I pay my service charge? How will I heal from the trauma I’ve experienced?”
When thinking about change, Anna says we should be speaking to the ‘experts’ – the young people with the lived experience.
“What our young people need is a system that works for them. They are the best people to ask what should change as they have lived it, experienced the trauma and know what didn’t work.
“They are the experts. They have the lived experience and we need to make sure that we listen to them and value their voice when we are making changes and implementing them.
“At Concrete’s young person’s service, we use a person-centred and strength-based approach to our support. Our young people are our priority and we want to make the transition into our service as easy and seamless as we possibly can.
“To do this we provide high quality accommodation that is fully furnished, which we hope alleviates any worries of being without essentials. They have everything they need, and we always help if they are having difficulties securing basic food or household items.
“We also work alongside our young people to help them develop their own skill sets and find development opportunities that enhance them.
“Any change within the sector really needs to set our young people up for the best start in life. It must focus on their strengths and educate them with the skills that are essential to life.
“A few councils across the county are looking at making being a care leaver a protected characteristic. I think this would help support young people leaving care and help break down some of the stigma and disadvantage that they face so early on in their lives.”