Understanding the issues of homelessness
What is homelessness?
It might be the most visible aspect of homelessness, but rough sleeping is just part of the story. Though some of the young people we help at Herts Young Homeless may have had to sleep on the streets at some point, there are many other situations where they can find themselves without a permanent, secure roof over their heads. Homeless can also be defined as living in unsuitable, unsafe or overcrowded accommodation.
Many of the young people who come to us have been staying with friends or relatives on a temporary basis, or ‘sofa-surfing’. They don’t have the security of knowing that they have permanent home to go to, and eventually with all their options exhausted, they have no-one left to turn to.
Many are living in emergency temporary solutions such as bed and breakfast accommodation or night shelters. These are only short term options often with no guarantee of a bed for a second night.
Many people are at significant risk of a homelessness situation occurring through losing their accommodation. This can be for a number of different reasons such as rent arrears, illness or unemployment. Some are still living with family or friends but they are vulnerable due to on-going issues within their families which may ultimately result in them becoming homeless.
To get help from their local authorities, young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless have to be classed as ‘statutory homeless’. This is involves a complicated process which requires that five specific conditions are met. Our trained staff offer help and advice on eligibility and how to approach the local authorities.
Local Housing Authorities have their own guidelines on categorising people as ‘statutory homeless’. This detailed and complex guidance is based on the 1996 Housing Act. Generally, however, you are deemed to be ‘statutory homeless’ if you are currently homeless or you are a risk of becoming homeless within 28 days. Other reasons can include:
- You are staying with family or friends on a temporary basis
- You are staying in certain types of hostels
- You are in emergency accommodation such as bed & breakfast
- You live in very overcrowded conditions
- You are at risk of violence or abuse within your home
- Your living conditions are inadequate which is affecting your health
- You do not have a legal right to stay in your accommodation
- You cannot afford to stay in your current property without depriving yourself of basic essentials
- You are forced to live apart from your family or someone you would normally live with.
Even if you are considered to be ‘statutory homeless’, this does not automatically mean that a statutory agency or accommodation provider will have a duty to house you. Each agency has their own guidance to determine if you meet their criteria. To make this decision they will be taking into account a vast range of information concerning your personal situation.
One of the major causes of homelessness for young people is the breakdown of family relationships. This usually happens when the family dynamic changes. More than half of the people who come to hyh for help have had to leave home because of serious disagreements with their parents or step-parents.
Sometimes family conflict has been a long-term issue, and often violence is a contributing factor. Vulnerable young people are left without the support of their family and can feel like they have nowhere left to turn.
While family breakdown is the most common cause of homelessness among young people many other issues such as unemployment, debts and health problems also contribute to the problem.
What they’re facing
The majority of the young people we work with not only have to cope with homelessness. They often have a range of different problems to deal with such as:
- Mental health problems
- Drug dependency
- Physical health issues
Many are in debt, some of them out of desperation turning to expensive loans from loan sharks and relying on store cards.
Often, one or more of these problems are combined, making it hard for young people to get the right kind of help.
This can have a devastating effect when it comes to completing their education, getting a job and establishing a stable and secure life for themselves. Young people in this situation feel let down, rejected and lost They don’t know where or how to start building a new future.
There are official figures for young people who are statutory homeless, but these don’t take into account the ‘hidden homeless’ – the sofa-surfers and other people at risk. A conservative estimate by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation puts the figure at 75,000.
At hyh, we tackle the issues faced by the young homeless on both a practical and emotional level. As an advice and referral agency we offer support by providing information and explaining options. Our objective is to enable people to make informed choices for themselves.
- Our Mediation service aims to prevent homelessness by working with families to resolve their problems.
- Our experts are on hand to provide advice, assistance and, when needed, a shoulder to cry on.
- We’re experienced in dealing with the local authority and we’re able to guide young people through the ins and outs of applying for housing.
- We provide support to people in accommodation, supporting them to gain the independent living skills to maintain that accommodation and avoid future homelessness.
- Our Nightstop Herts service, provided by volunteers with room to spare in their own homes, gives young people a breathing space outside the family home, which can contribute to reconciliation with their parents.
Our ultimate aim is to equip the young people who come to us for help with everything they need to build a better future for themselves, from working towards a better relationship with their family to knowing who to go to for careers advice and how to work out a budget.
Last year we helped around 1,800 young people in Hertfordshire which includes areas like St Albans, Stevenage, Letchworth, Hitchin, Welwyn Garden City, Harpenden, Ware, Watford, Borehamwood, Hemel Hempstead and Radlett.