By Denise Hatton, Chief Executive at YMCA England
Youth homelessness in London is a problem; and unfortunately for our current and future client base, it’s a growing one.
If you look at that statistics* alone, 871 people aged 18 to 25-years-old slept rough in the capital for at least one night in 2014-15. This should be an alarming statistic to anyone who counts London as their home, but it becomes even more acute when combined with the fact it also represents a 16% rise from the previous year and a 40% rise from 2011/12.
At YMCA, we don’t need to look at the statistics to see evidence of youth homelessness. With approximately 2,000 bed spaces, we are the largest provider of safe, supported accommodation for young people in London. This means that through our doors pass some of the most vulnerable people in the city who, without YMCA, could be out on the streets over a bitterly cold winter living a life far away from independence and progression.
So why is the problem in London so acute? What makes YMCA’s services – as well as those from other homelessness providers – so essential?
Well, it cannot be forgotten that London holds a somewhat unique set of challenges for everyone with a housing need, not just the young, vulnerable people who YMCAs support.
Unlike almost any other part of England, it is now as expensive to rent as it is to buy in London while the chances of today’s young people being able to purchase a home without significant financial support from friends or family is basically nil. This has resulted in a drain of young buyers who are now looking outside the capital for their first home, despite less jobs and, for many, little or no family connection.
Then let’s look for a moment at the typical client base in London’s YMCAs. Many of our clients have come to us after family breakdowns or domestic abuse that have made staying at home an impossibility. Others come from care, while a number have been referred to us after significant time on the streets.
Whatever the reason, living independently is often not immediately possible, let alone buying into an inflated property market. That is why, alongside providing a roof over their heads, we also dedicate our time in helping them to get their lives back on track.
Last year, we supported more than 1,000 young people to take on the basic life skills we all took for granted learning at home. We also provided more than 500 with literacy, numeracy and IT skills and supported more than 300 with pre-apprentice or apprenticeships placements.
As a youth-orientated charity, we have to provide more than just a safe and stable place to stay. We have to help them gain the confidence, abilities and skills to move on from our services, if only to let the next young person in.
However, this in itself is also a struggle. Our ‘Delayed Until Further Notice’ research compiled earlier this year found that moving on from YMCA services was being hampered by a lack of affordable housing. More than half (56%) of our young people surveyed said they were unable to find move on accommodation despite saying they were ready to leave and even the newly announced London Help to Buy looks likely to remain out of their reach.
In one area of London, we have attempted to combat this by creating Y:Cube, a low-cost, factory-built housing development for young people leaving our services. There are plans to roll it out further across the capital but, for it to succeed, it simply has to be done in combination with a wider Government commitment to low-cost house building, particularly in London and the south east.
YMCA has been around for 171 years and in this time, we’ve listened to what young people have needed and done what we could to help; now it’s time for London and local and national government to do the same.
*Combined Homelessness and Information Network report 2014-15.
There are currently five YMCAs operating in London – YMCA East London, YMCA Thames Gateway, YMCA London South West, YMCA West London and YMCA North London.
YMCA England is the national council of YMCAs in England. Every year across the country, YMCA provides almost 10,000 beds to predominantly homeless, young people and supports more than 43,000 people with education, skills and training. It is also the country’s largest voluntary sector provider of health and wellbeing services promoting physical activity.
For more information on YMCA England, visit www.ymca.org.uk