It is often said that the health of an economy can be measured by the numbers of cranes that appear in the skyline of a city.
Well, I want to propose to you tonight that the health of the nation can also be measured by the way in which your sense of social responsibility as an industry is brought to bear on the subject of youth homelessness.
Despite the extraordinary achievements we enjoy as a modern, technological, wealthy society, we are still failing so many of our young people in the most basic of ways – a roof over their heads.
The issue of homelessness is often put into the box of ‘too difficult’. Homelessness has always existed, has it not, so why do we think we can change that?
You of all industries know that standing still and allowing the status quo to prevail is not acceptable. The quality and ingenuity of the construction industry is matched by few others – your sense of innovation and development is built into the very fabric of what you do.
Homelessness as a subject is often boiled down to clichés and misunderstandings, so if you don’t mind, I would like to take a moment to explain what I mean by homelessness and why I am so passionate about the subject.
When we think of homelessness, our minds usually go to those we see sleeping rough on our streets. This form of homelessness is hugely destructive and it rightly attracts attention.
But as I have found during my years of involvement with charities like Centrepoint, those who sleep on the streets are the tiny tip of a very big iceberg. The bigger issue is hidden homelessness – the tens of thousands of young people who at any one time do not have anywhere that they can call home.
Not having a home means the basic things of life that the rest of us take for granted cannot happen. Where can you store your earnings safely when banks won’t give you an account as you do not have an address?
How do you get a permanent job when an employer asks for proof of address? And how do you form a lasting relationship with someone if you have nowhere private you can be together?
Relationships, safety, jobs – the basic stuff of life. Our homes allow us to pursue all these things. You take our homes away and replace them with a friend’s sofa or a shabby B&B or a temporary hostel and suddenly – it’s all much, much tougher.
And you add to that where these young people have come from.
Teenagers and young adults who find themselves homeless have not chosen to end up like that. These children – for that is what many of them are – are escaping abuse, violence, chaotic families, grinding poverty, addiction – all manner of trauma.
And what is so especially tragic about this is the fact that these people are young – their whole lives are ahead of them. They are brimming with energy, enthusiasm and dreams. And yet they are trapped in a vicious cycle from which they cannot escape.
So, it is for all these reasons that youth homelessness is for me such an emotive issue. And it is why I am so immensely encouraged by your ambition to make a difference on this subject. Your ability as an industry to effect real and lasting change is unmatched by anyone else.
To harness your charitable support, as LandAid does, to help tackle the tragedy of youth homelessness is inspiring. I wish more industries had the zeal and focus that you do.
I know that you will make tonight a wonderful success for LandAid. But I hope you will also help make the weeks, months and years ahead a wonderful success for all of us who are determined to end youth homelessness.
Thank you for everything you are doing. And please be generous. Don’t underestimate your power to do immense good tonight.
A very happy 30th birthday to LandAid.
HRH The Duke of Cambridge was speaking at the 2017 LandAid Gala Dinner at the Guildhall on 1 March 2017.