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More rough sleepers are now under 25 due to pandemic

Breakdowns in family relationships, domestic abuse, overcrowding and unemployment mean more young people are sleeping outside

12 February, 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Groups urge government for more funding to help young people 

CHARITIES for the homeless have urged the government to pay for emergency shelters for young people amid warnings that number of under-25s sleeping rough is rising.

The long-standing New Horizon Youth Centre in Somers Town, which helps young and vulnerable homeless people, said it was stretched to find accommod­ation for more than half the people who asked for help in recent months and had resorted to paying for hotels itself.

Service manager Meghan Roach said: “We’ve had many more young people approach us for help in the last year. Twice as many women as we normally see. Our resources are stretched so there is a real worry about how we are going to cope as the problem worsens.”

She added: “The problem is there is barely any emergency accommodation and none specific for young people, which is what is desperately needed. We don’t have enough money to keep putting people up in hotels and the only option is sending them back out with a sleeping bag.”

Breakdowns in family relationships, domestic abuse, overcrowding and unemployment have been cited as the main reasons more young people are sleeping outside.

The charities’ figures show that one person in 10 on the streets is under 25. Dylan, whose name has been changed for his anonymity, had been living with a family member up until February last year but came home one day to find his belongings had been packed up and left outside.

New Horizon service manager Meghan Roach

He later turned to New Horizon which helped find him a hostel place.

“Before all this happened I’d been working as a videographer but I no longer had any place to work or even to charge my laptop. I stopped seeing people because I had nowhere to put on a clean change of clothes. I got depressed and anxious and felt like I couldn’t do anything anymore,” he said.

“Sleeping rough is hell. You feel so uncomfortable, you don’t sleep because you’re listening out for every little noise.”

Charities believe the true number of homeless young people may be much higher but a tendency to hide means many are not counted among the official figures.

Paul Noblet, head of the Centrepoint charities, said: “At the start of the pandemic the government stepped up and invested in local services to get everyone in. That was the right call then, and it’s the right call now.

“Regional mayors, local councils, and charities want to provide age-appropriate accommodation for rough sleepers but to do that we need ministers to dip into the coffers again to keep every­one safe whilst vaccines are rolled out.”

He added: “That means providing more funding to ensure that night shelters and homelessness services can accommodate everyone and reflect the needs of different age groups as, for many young people, the prospect of all age accommodation leads them to stay out on the streets.”

During the first lockdown, an “everyone in” policy was funded by the government, which saw rough sleepers booked into hotels.

But the Britannia Hotel in Belsize Park, where homeless people were given rooms and access to help services, has now closed and the criteria to qualify for help has narrowed.

The government has said it has taken “unprecedented action”, adding that this had been “backed by over £700m to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.”

A spokesperson said: “We’re ensuring councils and voluntary organisations have the tools and funding they need and recently wrote to councils asking them to redouble their efforts to accommodate rough sleepers.”

Cabinet councillor Nadia Shah, however has warned more funding is needed.

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