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Reaction: Britain’s homelessness crisis: we need to think out of the box

Homelessness in Britain is reaching endemic proportions, with new research by Centrepoint finding that as many as 122,000 young people aged 16-24 presented to their local authority as homeless or at risk of homelessness in the past year. This follows a 40 per cent increase in youth homelessness over the previous five years, with this trend only expected to continue as the government pushes ahead with planned cuts to universal credit.

“The problem is worse than it was a decade ago and it’s actually worse than it was two years ago,” said Seyi Obakin, the chief executive of Centrepoint. “It is heart-breaking to see the range of complex issues that young people are presenting with is also getting wider.”

The young people who find themselves at risk of homelessness, and the set of circumstances that have led them there, are far from uniform. This means that a one-size-fits-all approach is not going to provide the right support for everyone, particularly as the number of young people facing homelessness continues to grow.

A breakdown of relations with family members is by far the most common reason that young people find themselves homeless, with 60 per cent stating that they found themselves homeless after their family or friends were no longer able to accommodate them. Gang crime or mental and physical health problems are also often cited as the reasons young people find themselves without a permanent home.

While it is clear youth homelessness is on the rise, the statistics fail to capture the true scale of the problem, with many people forced to sleep on night buses or friends’ sofas. These ‘hidden homeless’ often fall beneath the radar but are just as vulnerable and in need of support.

The way youth homelessness must be addressed is not as simple as just finding suitable housing for those in need. Young people who have experienced homelessness often have mental health needs, and physical health requirements. Likewise, many are dealing with substance abuse issues, while others, such as care leavers, do not have adequate support systems.

The complex requirements of these young people means that a holistic approach, rooted in creativity, is required to tackle the youth homelessness crisis.

One solution that appears to make an impact is Buses4Homeless, which turns decommissioned busses into shelters as part of an intervention aiming to improve the living conditions of London’s homeless. Using buses donated by Stagecoach, this innovative project seeks to tackle the dearth of accommodation available in the capital, while also providing a space for its beneficiaries to undertake skills training.

Similarly, Homeless Link have also made waves by launching its ‘StreetLink’ mobile app, which enables the public to alert local outreach services about people sleeping rough in England and Wales.

Yet to address the complex needs of those experiencing homeless, it is important that the issue is tackled holistically, with health and wellbeing concerns paid due attention. For this reason, I am proud that BoxWise, the flagship initiative of The Nick Maughan Foundation, is partnering with Centrepoint to expand the resources young homeless people have access to. As a non-profit social enterprise, BoxWise seeks to empower disadvantaged young people through sport by helping vulnerable young people build confidence, improve their health and wellbeing, and maximise all opportunities around them.

Offering a 10-week boxing programme with a difference, BoxWise provides safe havens through which young people can develop their skills and talents, while also giving youngsters a free hot meal and respite from any difficulties they are experiencing. In addition to this, BoxWise also offers practical advice and progression routes to help its graduates enter employment or further education. Proving a vital lifeline for disadvantaged young people, I am incredibly proud that BoxWise’s programme is now being rolled-out in Centrepoint’s Camberwell service centre, offering essential support to those that need it most.

It is clear the issue of youth homelessness is increasingly pertinent. Yet to have any chance of reaching Centrepoint’s long-term goal of ending youth homelessness by 2037, we must begin to tackle the issue both creatively and holistically.


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