One of the UK’s leading youth homelessness charities has warned young people are still struggling to access support after recording a “a significant increase” in demand for its helpline this year.
Centrepoint, which established the helpline to offer support to young people at risk of homelessness, recorded 1,070 calls in February 2021 alone, a 36 per cent increase from February last year.
In its report, entitled A Year Like No Other: Youth Homelessness During The COVID Pandemic, the charity said it took a total of 13,019 calls since the beginning of last year, a rise of 33 per cent compared to just 9,770 calls in 2019-20.
The findings have led to calls for more long-term funding for ‘youth-specific’ accommodation, and the provision of specialist emergency accommodation for young people at risk of homelessness.
Deputy service manager, Emily Cretch said: “While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the last year has taught us the fragility of life and the importance of supporting those who are more vulnerable than we are.
“It is essential that the government ring-fence funding for youth specific accommodation and services to give our young people a fighting chance of having a job and a home as they move on into adult life.”
Rough sleeping a ‘growing problem’
According to the report, the helpline has seen a growing number of callers who are rough sleeping, with 17.7 per cent of those supplying details of their housing situation sleeping rough at the time of calling.
“Spikes in call volume often followed the introduction of local or national lockdown restrictions, suggesting these measures put more young people at risk of homelessness,” the report states.
The charity also claims to have heard from increasing numbers of young people sleeping rough at a younger age, with 28% of callers currently rough sleeping aged under 21 between 2020-21.
The last year has been a nightmare for the young people we work with.— Centrepoint (@centrepointuk) April 21, 2021
Our Helpline has been inundated with calls from worried young people who need help.
Read our full report here: https://t.co/AZElA6PPuK pic.twitter.com/nYj2K8BnSn
This is despite the Government’s commitment to provide emergency accommodation to rough sleepers across the UK, and a pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024.
Introduced during the first lockdown, the Everyone In scheme has provided over 37,000 rough sleepers with a place to stay during the pandemic.
The scheme, which saw local councils given £3.2million to provide shelter to the homeless, has been praised by charities for saving tens of thousands of vulnerable people from contracting coronavirus.
But Centrepoint says the experience of its helpline suggests that the programme has its “limitations” with staff reporting that the levels of support had declined, making it increasingly difficult for young people to access accommodation.
One helpline worker said: “Personally, in my view the support for rough sleepers is particularly weak. It is such a desperate situation to hear someone in because you are having to say there is a possibility you may be doing that again tonight.”
In March, more than 30 charities, including Depaul and St Mungos’s, signed a letter calling for an “urgent package of financial support” for homelessness accommodation services – mirroring grants available to businesses.
Alongside the breakdown of calls, the report also recorded the trends in which young people were contacting the helpline, as well as the biggest causes of homelessness during the pandemic.
Figures show an increase in calls from newly homeless people, with 78 per cent of callers who provided information on their homelessness having been so for less than three months.
Elsewhere, the report found that breakdowns in family relationships was the biggest cause of homelessness among those contacting the helpline in the last year, with 59 per cent reporting it as their main cause of homelessness.
“The emotional impact of the pandemic has put additional strain on family relationships, especially those that were unstable to begin with.
“Calls to the Centrepoint Helpline suggest that more young people have been forced to escape from fractured relationships or family dynamics caused by the emotional toil of the pandemic,” the report states.
The report also expressed concern at what it described as a lack of “consistent support” available across local authorities for vulnerable groups.
“Despite the pandemic and the Everyone In scheme, the experience of young people calling the Centrepoint Helpline suggests that some councils have not been following the guidelines outlined in the HRA,” the report states.
Enacted in 2017, the Homelessness Reduction Act placed legal duties upon local authorities to prevent homelessness irrespective of whether the applicant is in priority need.
But in the case of one pregnant mother at risk of homelessness, her local authority refused her help until she had obtained “a written letter from my mum stating that she is kicking me out,” the report described.
One helpline worker said: “From what I have experienced, I feel like their willingness to take someone on has decreased, it has never been great. They will find any reason to not accept a person as homeless.”
Helpline manager, Paul Brokelhurst, said that the pandemic had “made worse the enormous struggle young people were already facing to access the emergency support they need when they need it.”
“The fact is that too many young people facing homelessness are dismissed by councils, who can demand they ‘prove’ their homelessness by sleeping rough or potentially put at further risk in all-age accommodation. This shouldn’t be happening under any circumstances, but particularly during a pandemic.”