Young People's Zone
The scale of youth homelessness
The scale of youth homelessness illustrated by the new Centrepoint report is very concerning. Centrepoint reports that only 40 per cent of young people who approach as homeless in England were given an assessment to determine their eligibility for emergency housing.
Advocacy services are essential to help children and young people get the correct assessments and support. Coram Voice’s Outreach Project for homeless young people seeks out, informs and supports young people who are homeless, or at risk, and who should be supported by their Local Authority Children’s Services. Our service supports both 16 and 17 year olds who should be assessed and supported by children’s social care as well as young people over 18 who were known to be homeless when they were younger, but not appropriately assessed by their local authority.
In our work with homeless children and young people in the last few years we have found that some Children’s Social Care Services are failing in their legal duties, turning children away without performing a proper assessment, or without providing the support that children needs. Children are being referred to housing departments without being assessed, or simply told to return home. They are also being refused assessments if they present to Children’s Social Care in a different area from where they live. Coram Voice advocates use their expertise of the care system and relevant legislation to ensure these young people’s care status and support needs are recognised correctly by their Local Authority, even retrospectively, so that a young person receives the support that they are entitled to as a looked after child or careleaver.
From our work we know that youth homelessness is not just a housing issue: children aged 16 and 17 who present as homeless are vulnerable and placed at serious risk of harm without appropriate support. As illustrated by our The Door is Closed report, a review of the cases supported by our outreach project, in almost all cases where children are turned away or otherwise failed by Children’s Social Care, they end up sofa surfing or street homeless, facing lasting effects to their safety, physical and mental health, job prospects and education. Homeless children and young people face a greater risk of being robbed, threatened and attacked, as well as facing the health problems that result from sleeping rough and not having enough food.
The Door is Closed showed that more needed to be done to ensure that local authorities adhered to legislation and statutory guidance and that children’s and housing services work together to ensure that children and young people are suitably housed and supported.
Where local authorities are not assessing and supporting homeless young people they must have the opportunity to challenge these decisions. However, this is often too much for a young person to do on their own. Centrepoint’s report and continued demand for our outreach services shows the desperate need for high quality independent advocacy services nationally, to make sure young people are appropriately assessed and supported.
As illustrated by George’s story below, by getting their needs correctly recognised, we can ensure that young homelessness people are provided with safe, suitable housing as well as support with their other welfare needs. We aim to re-engage them with Children’s Services so they are kept safe and have the opportunity to realise their full potential.
George’s story out of homelessness
George was thrown out of the family home at 16 years old and told to fend for himself. After living on friend’s sofas he was referred to Children’s Services who simply passed him to the Housing Department. He was placed in a Bed & Breakfast and shuffled between various large hostels. Living alongside other homeless adults wasn’t suitable for such a vulnerable young person. He wanted to be at college or finding work, but without any support, money or a stable place to live he couldn’t get beyond surviving day-to-day. Eventually unable to pay the rent, he was evicted from the hostel and started living on the streets.
It was only when George met the Outreach team that things began to look up. His advocate, Richard, got in touch with George’s Local Authority and pressed for a review of his case. After this review, they agreed that George should have been classed as a careleaver. Richard ensured that he received the additional support available to careleavers to help manage his finances and return to education.
“If I didn't come to Coram Voice I wouldn't be in the flat I am in. I don't know where I would be. I would probably still be on the street. I was at my most low and most desperate and within a couple of months, after four years of being ignored, you have turned my life around… I am more able to speak up for myself. If I notice that people are not doing their job properly I will put my views forward. I'm more confident now.”
George is now living in his own small flat and has the stability to consider a return to education. The fact that he has been listened to and understood has boosted his confidence.
Linda Briheim-Crookall, Coram Voice Senior Policy and Practice Development Manager