Growing up is hard enough when you don't need to worry about finding a place to shelter for the night. For young people without a stable home to fall back on for support and security, the experiences that other youths take for granted can seem painfully out of reach; without a permanent address, attending school becomes problematic - obtaining a job, nearly impossible. Fulfilling basic needs for food, clothing, and places to weather the night can be stressful enough as to drive young people into making risky choices in the slim hopes of finding warmth and sustenance.
Understanding the Problem
The issue we face today is significant. According to Centrepoint's Youth Homeless Database, well over 86,000 young people approach their local council for housing aid every year. Youth homelessness is a real and present problem in the UK today - and right now, we don't have the structures we need in place to resolve it.
Youth leave their homes for a myriad of reasons. Some move to escape domestic abuse or familial breakdown, while others hope that independence will help them break out of poverty or gain a better handle on their mental health conditions. Unfortunately, however, sleeping rough usually only worsens these concerns and leads to a decline in a person's psychological and physical health. A young person on the streets has no support system to help them deal with the constant dangers of street life, and no way to alleviate the anxiety that comes part and parcel with sleeping rough.
Moreover, most youth-centred policies in the UK operate on the assumption that young people will receive some financial support from their parents or guardians. As such, there is limited public programming for those under the age of twenty-five; even the national living wage is out of reach for those under the age cap. The current minimum wage for those between the ages of 21 and 24 comes to £7.38. For those under 18, this rate drops to £4.20; apprentices earn a mere £3.70 every hour. These rates aren't nearly enough to cover the monthly cost of rent, bills, and food. Ironically, the young people who strike out on their own to find a better, safer life have fewer resources and assistance options than the guardians they left might have had in their position.
Creating Holistic Solutions
Young people need stability. It isn't enough to place them back in their parents' homes, because shelter alone doesn't guarantee stability - odds are, the child will only run away again. Our aid programmes need to approach the issue of environment head-on by providing families with access to counselling services, offering parents avenues to better their housing or employment options, providing emergency accommodations as needed, and otherwise ensuring that all young people have the means to continue their studies and work with whatever support they might need. Ultimately, our end goal shouldn’t be to force the child back home if the environment isn't healthy, but to create a supportive network that provides them with the guidance and security they need to build a positive future. Resolving the issue is more than a little complex, but it can, ultimately, be done.
Right now, many communities only have reactive policies; that is, policies that can help youth after they have already experienced homelessness. Ideally, prevention strategies would be bridge reactivity and proactivity by empowering social workers to not only help young people find secure housing and prevent recurring homelessness but also identify and intervene in at-risk cases before an individual ever begins sleeping rough. If we can find a way to merge the holistic, long-term solutions described above with in-community aid for at-risk youth, we may stand a chance of battling back the youth homelessness epidemic in the UK.