Young people are at particular risk during a housing crisis yet we know so little about the real numbers of young people facing homelessness and the stories they have to tell. Ahead of the General Election on Saturday February 8, Dillon Nolan tells us his story and writes about what our next government needs to focus on.
Young people are six times more likely to experience discrimination by private landlords, and have to result to couch surfing, staying with friends, and constant insecure housing just to survive. Yet these young people aren’t included in Government official homeless numbers; they are hidden. There are many unique pathways to homelessness for young people but I’m going to focus on a group within the hidden homeless; young people leaving state care.
Young people who grew up in care without a strong family network can’t actually go home to their family and are particularly vulnerable to homelessness because of the policies in place and the gaps in aftercare.
The reason I’m speaking about this group is because I was one of those kids. I went through the care system, from foster care to finally residential care. ‘Home’ is a word that I think is different to everyone but I feel like we can agree on some aspects of it. A home has to be secure and has to be somewhere you feel safe. My residential care home was my home as a teenager. I had kind and supportive staff, an amazing keyworker called PJ and above all, it was stability for me. But when I turned 18, that stability ended. I came into the risk of homelessness and insecure housing because it was suddenly deemed, overnight, that I was an adult now and able to support myself independently. I was now an adult that had to learn about renting, learn how to live on my own and to actually have a roof over my head. I also had to learn how to cope with loneliness when living on my own.
I came into the risk of homelessness and insecure housing because it was suddenly deemed, overnight, that I was an adult now and able to support myself independently.
I entered Focus Ireland accommodation at 18 years old while still in 6th year of school a few months before I was due to sit the leaving certificate. Would we force our own children out of home while still in school, to fend for themselves during the housing crisis, all because they had turned 18? So why is it that we do this to young people in state care and expect them to just get through it? When I was leaving care, for a while I didn’t know where I was going due to the closure of aftercare supports. But I knew I was being pushed out of my home. And you know what that feels like? It feels like being on a conveyor belt. You’re just being pushed along a path and you can’t change the direction. Once you reach the end, you’re just pushed off, without a safety net.
You would think I was an exception. That I was just unlucky, but this is still happening today. Care experienced young people are at an increased risk of homelessness and are over represented in homeless services like Focus Ireland when they reach adulthood. EPIC, an organization in Empowering Young People in Care, noted that 12% of all advocacy cases involved a young person who was homeless. This was an increase of 62% SINCE 2016 . This is what ‘business as usual’ policies look like.
It feels like being on a conveyor belt. You’re just being pushed along a path and you can’t change the direction. Once you reach the end, you’re just pushed off, without a safety net.
Importance of Aftercare
There is a clear issue with how aftercare works currently and the lack of support and the varied support given to young people when they leave care. Particularly today when an already disadvantaged group now has to compete in the private market that already discriminates against young people. What helped me was having an aftercare package, something those who enter the care system within 12 months of turning 18 are not entitled to.
I had a dedicated aftercare worker, who helped so much in accessing aftercare services and support. Even after that one placement falling through, she didn’t give up and eventually I got a placement with Focus Ireland. I could go to school without worrying about sleeping in a hostel at night. Many young people leaving care do not get this. And while aftercare has improved in some ways, there is no point in making the process into homelessness as comfortable or as nice as possible, if the end result for that 18-year-old is still waking up isolated, alone and without a home.
Young people have been left behind in government decision making. You can have all of the fight, ability and resilience in the world, but if a system disempowers a disenfranchised group of people, then we’re only fighting to survive, rather than to live. And it seems like the government just doesn’t want to see or understand how catastrophic the crisis has escalated.
if a system disempowers a disenfranchised group of people, then we’re only fighting to survive, rather than to live
What Needs to Change
The 2020 Budget isn’t near enough effort for young people. One example is the work of the Land Development Agency to streamline building on State land. The Government has directed the LDA to ensure that developments on State land only deliver 10% social housing and 30% affordable housing and it seems much of this “affordable” housing could cost over €300K which isn’t really affordable. This means that well over 60% of homes and resources are not available to the young people experiencing homelessness and the tens of thousands of others who are in need of housing.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe concluded his statement on the budget by saying that ‘it invests in our future, while meeting the needs of today.’ We must have very different understandings of the needs of today. This is ignoring the issues. This is ignoring the housing crisis. This is ignoring the young people who are struggling to keep a roof over their head.
We need to be angry. We need to be angry that the number of 18-24-year olds who are homeless has nearly doubled in 5 years. The role of the State is to be that corporate parent for all children in State care. So what parent would abandon their child when they turn 18? No child should have to move straight from their home to adult homeless services just because they turned 18 years of age.
This is punishing them for being in an environment that they did not put themselves in. We have to trust the research and use it instead of the same old, ‘not in my back yard’ approach. It’s too big for it to not be in your back yard anymore. Most people in Ireland now know a young person who is at risk of homelessness. Except for a small number of people, who happen to be the people making the decisions for us young people. And that’s not fair, it’s not logical, and it’s not right.
Focus Ireland call for the next Government to urgently develop and put in place a Strategy to tackle and prevent youth homelessness includes actions for the government that are inclusive of the diversity and uniqueness of young people who are homeless – understanding that tenants deserve rights and great security, that homeless services need to be LGBTQ+ friendly and that the government must guarantee that all young people leaving state care have a secure home. We’re talking about real, tangible housing. Emergency accommodation doesn’t count, co-living doesn’t count and couches don’t count.
Emergency accommodation doesn’t count, co-living doesn’t count and couches don’t count
This is where we draw the line. Nearly 11,000 people signed the Focus Ireland petition to end youth homelessness. Young people are watching the decisions being made about us now. We want the next government to understand the urgency of the housing crisis, for all of the different vulnerable groups of young people. Because the next generation will never forgive you if you don’t act. The next young person about to fall off the conveyor belt won’t ever forgive us if we do not act, if we do not put a safety net in place to catch them.
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