Youth homelessness has increased by 82% over the last four years. The most recent figures show that there were 869 young people aged 18-24 accessing State-funded homeless services in December 2018. The true scale of youth homelessness is likely much larger. In this blog post, Focus Ireland Policy Officer Alison Connolly outlines how this has led to a call for government action on this issue.
We know that young people are one of the most vulnerable groups experiencing homelessness. They are less likely to know where they can get help or how to access services. They are more likely to stay with friends or family in unsuitable and unsustainable situations. They are more likely to experience hidden homelessness and be excluded from official statistics. We also know that an experience of homelessness at a young age can have lasting impacts, and can lead to cyclical or inter-generational homelessness. We believe that youth homelessness must be tackled as a matter of great urgency.
Focus Ireland is one of the founding members of the Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness. 15 organisations have come together from across the spectrum of housing, homelessness and youth work to call for Government action on youth homelessness. Due to the scale of the housing crisis, youth homelessness has been coming to the attention of a diverse range of organisations working with young people. We are concerned that in the context of the crisis, young people have been forgotten. The Government strategy, Rebuilding Ireland, mentions young people once. There is no meaningful provision to address their specific needs and circumstances.
As a Coalition, we believe that with the right policies and service interventions, Ireland can end youth homelessness. The Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness have developed a document which outlines our vision of what these policies and service interventions are. We are advocating for Government to develop a comprehensive Youth Homelessness Strategy, which includes these key actions, which centre around three main themes:
- Housing First for Youth
- Prevention and Early Intervention
- Addressing existing policies that disadvantage young people.
Housing First for Youth
Housing First is recognised nationally and internationally as one of the most effective ways of addressing homelessness. We recommend the introduction of a programme of Housing First for Youth in Ireland. This model provides young people with housing as quickly as possible to help them avoid or escape homelessness. They are then provided with intensive, person-centred supports. This might include healthcare and addiction supports, employment or education supports, mental health supports or financial advice. These supports ensure the young person is in the best position to maintain their tenancy. A programme of Housing First for Youth in Ireland would require the ring-fencing or appropriate accommodation from social housing and private stock as well as the provision of the above supports. The model should include a range of housing options, acknowledging that young people may want to share accommodation or may need supported housing.
Prevention and Early Intervention
Homelessness is not a random occurrence and we are well aware of its predictors and risk factors. These can be identified at an early stage by those working with and supporting young people and their families. If we can intervene when issues first arise, we can mitigate the risk of young people entering homelessness at all. We recommend increased family supports and the introduction of family mediation. These services will operate to strengthen relationships and keep young people in family home or ensure a planned move into independent living, with family relationships maintained. We also advocate for the introduction of programmes to engage young people in school, identify those at risk and ensure young people know what is involved in the transition into independent tenancies or the reality of homeless services.
Addressing Policies that Disadvantage Young People
Young people experiencing homelessness have a lot in common with others in this situation. They need affordable, secure accommodation and they are being constantly buffeted by the inaccessibility of the private rented sector and social housing. However, even with improved housing options, young people will continue to be at a disadvantage in accessing accommodation. They are often at the bottom of social housing waiting lists and are viewed as less favourable tenants in the private market. For those without any care history, they are on a significantly reduced rate of social welfare which makes in even more difficult to compete in the rental sector. We are advocating for a restoration of the full rate of Jobseekers Allowance for those under 26 as well as the introduction of stronger rental protections and a more diversified social housing stock.
As a Coalition, we will ensure that politicians and policy-makers are aware of our proposals and know that youth homelessness is not an acceptable or normal part of our housing system. We must work to end it.
For more information, visit the Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness website: www.endyouthhomelessness.ie
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