When people talk about homelessness, they very rarely think about young people. But 1 in 5 of those who are homeless are young people, and this number is only rising. This was the topic for discussion at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs last year. I was there, and here’s what I have to say.
Homelessness, especially in the case of young people, isn’t just sleeping on the streets. It’s couch-surfing with mates, being in temporary accommodation, and so much more. Because of the growing housing crisis, there are little homes in supply which makes the ones that are in supply far too expensive, leaving young people unable to afford rent, and at risk of homelessness. Living with parents isn’t always possible either, as a large number of young people become homeless after being estranged from their parents for various reasons. This is what some of the young people from the YMCA who attended the All Party Parliamentary Group had experienced, saying that a family breakdown can literally leave you with no home to return to. The New Horizon Youth Centre, who were also in attendance, help provide somewhere safe for young people to stay, as well as providing advice, support, and food. However, they’ve recently claimed to have had their busiest day in 50 years. 76 young people came to their day centre with over 30 queuing in line before 10am. They say this isn’t normal, and I don’t think it is either.
So what’s going wrong? In the 2000’s, the government gave housing associations the job of building affordable houses instead of councils. They thought that it’d avoid crime-ridden council estates and create economic harmony. But it didn’t. Developers focused on doing what would give them the most money, building very little homes for ‘social rent’ the official term for affordable rent. In addition to this, they’d give social tenants a separate entrance called a poor door, restrict them from using gyms and playgrounds, and the properties themselves were often inconsistent in quality. House building in the social sector dropped to its lowest ever rates, and the issue has consistently been under prioritised by those in power. And thanks to austerity and various other measures, councils have been starved of the funding needed to build more social housing, and many developers have continued to prioritise exclusive listings, benefiting only the minority. People started renting out rooms in their own homes, often single rooms at unaffordable rates, meaning young people without financial backing have literally nowhere to turn to with London councils overwhelmed. In the UK’s capital alone, 1 in 50 people in the city are now homeless.
That brings us up to November of last year, when the All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs got together to discuss the matter. Young people from all over London and beyond were there, including some familiar faces from the UK Youth Parliament. Chairing the meeting was Conservative MP Jo Gideon who was very intrigued by the scale of the issue, as well as a panel of specialists in the matter. Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle also joined to share his views, claiming that “Local Authorities are trying to do everything they can to get out of their duty.” I attended the event with friends from the Greenwich Young People’s Council and also had the opportunity to talk about my own experience of homelessness. Being homeless for over 11 years now, I know how it can affect a young person, especially if they’ve been homeless since early childhood. That’s why I’m determined to help solve it.
The charity Centre Point UK was also in attendance and was on the panel. They said their recent research estimated the total annual cost of homeless young people amounts to £8.5billion, £27,347 for each young homeless person. This is equivalent to the average salary of a police officer. With over 136,000 young people estimated to be homeless, how should this or any future government go about solving it? Well, there are many ways we can make it significantly better. I believe that instead of money being used to support young people in temporary housing, the money is more than enough to build, buy, or rent a studio. It might seem silly, but simply giving a young person a free home could actually save the government thousands of pounds. On the other hand, there are no houses to hand out, so the obvious next step is to build as many houses as physically possible for the cheapest price possible. In the meantime, cutting the cost of essentials by providing free school meals to all those in homelessness as well as other similar measures could also be working to support those in need.
It’s important to note that it’s not just about the lack of money. Young people at the event also talked about life skills such as managing money and paying rent that are simply not being taught in schools. In addition, digital poverty has made it harder for those from low income backgrounds to access essential support and education. There’s also the problem of government jargon: endless waffle that young people can’t understand. Because it’s not just about giving a house, it’s also about knowing how to manage one. Young people can become the independent and successful people they were made to be, but only with extra help.
So as the January winter sets in, 136,000 young people are staring down another tough year. There are loads of amazing charities such as Centrepoint, YMCA and the New Horizon Youth Centre, doing their bit to help, as well as young people like those who attended the All Party Parliamentary Group. But it’ll be up to the government and the politicians holding them to account to solve this. We’ll have to wait and see if they take up this opportunity.