The hidden homeless
A homeless person doesn't always fit into a category or match a stereotype. 'Hidden homelessness' describes people who move from place to place without having a fixed place to call home.
A person trapped in hidden homelessness also covers people living in:
- Friends' places;
- Temporary accommodation
- B&Bs - yet under new plans, councils will be banned from putting homeless 16 and 17 year-olds in B&Bs by 2010. Instead the Government hopes to set up a national network of lodgings for 'short-term respite';
- Insecure accommodation - anyone who's being subjected to harassment within their household;
- Inadequate accommodation - overcrowding, unsafe/run-down houses, people living without central heating, and people at risk of imminent eviction.
How common is hidden homelessness?
Hidden homelessness is said to affect around 4,000 people in Britain and is most common in people aged between 16 and 25. It's difficult to place an exact figure on the hidden homeless because many people who don't have a base of their own aren't necessarily sleeping on the streets. This means they won't be registered by their local authority as being homeless.
Nearly 7,000 young people are listed as high priority for housing within local councils. Shelter says that the problem is growing and over 15,000 young people a year are approaching its aid centres for housing help.
How do young people find themselves homeless?
Young people rarely choose to leave home without having a safe alternative. Still, many are forced out of their homes due to violent, sexual or racial abuse, poverty and family conflict.
There are a number of reasons why young people become homeless. Family and relationship breakdowns are the most common factor. Other issues that can create a barrier to someone not being in permanent accommodation include:
- Drug and alcohol problems;
- Mental health problems;
- Young offenders struggling to get work;
- Young people leaving care;
- Low self-esteem
The Big Issue's 2004 Audit revealed that 33% of its vendors were homeless before the age of 20.
"There are quite a lot of services available to the homeless but many people don't know how to access them and that's something we need to address," says Keith Smith at The Big Issue North. "Being homeless is much more complicated than not having a roof over your head. People who are homeless often have complex and varied needs."
Living in inadequate housing can have a negative effect on health. One in 12 young people are more likely to get sick because of bad housing and are more likely to be injured due to badly designed homes or dangerous fittings. Young homeless people are also likely to miss up to a quarter of their schooling.
Help for the hidden homeless
There are a large number of charities based all over the UK that provide care, shelter and advice for homeless people. Centrepoint, Shelter and Barnardo's specialise in youth homelessness. The YMCA also offers shelters or foyers for temporary accommodation.
"The first thing you should do is contact your local homelessness charity straight away. Even if they don't have bed spaces available, they can point you in the right direction and give you other ideas for support," says Amanda at Arch, a charity dedicated to preventing and resolving homelessness in North Staffordshire.
Being homeless is much more complicated than not having a roof over your head. People who are homeless often have complex and varied needs.
Charlette is 23 and has been living in temporary accommodation since the age of 15. "Be strong because there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. There are other people out there to help you, so don't feel that you're alone. If I'd known about Crisis when I first became homeless I would have been a lot happier," she says.
"I wish I'd put my head down and studied more, rather than wasting all that time. I was working from the age of 15 and making money instead of studying and working towards my goals. I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I was younger, but I'm getting there in the end!"
What's being done to help the hidden homeless?
"There's a big lack of social housing and appropriate accommodation for people with complex needs. Young people often come to live in a foyer following a period of moving from one place to another or staying with friends, which is a classic example of hidden homelessness," says Sophie Livingstone at Foyer.
"Many young people have said that if only they'd have known how hard it would be to live independently they would have thought twice about leaving home."
Shelter says that although the Government has done a lot to address street homelessness, there's actually been a steady increase in the number of families living in temporary accommodation, which continues to rise.
"People living in hostels can be moved on at any time and this means having to change schools, doctors, and getting used to new communities," says Emma Guise at Shelter. "We're calling on the government to take the problem seriously and commit to building more social housing because there just aren't enough social homes being built."
Crisis says that although there is a lot of positive work being done, it's not always easy for homeless people to reach out for help in order to get what they need.
"People living in hostels are often trapped there for years and years. They are unable to hold down a job, move into education and get their own home," says Lucy Maggs at Crisis. "At Crisis it's far more about finding a roof for someone. Homelessness is very isolating and demoralising. We provide activities and workshops to help people gain not only educational skills, but life skills to help them re-engage in society."
Written by Julia Pearlman
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