How young people with experiences of homelessness inform our research

LandAid have teamed up with Comic Relief to fund Homeless Link’s sixth Young and Homeless study. Jennifer Harris from Homeless Link explains how the research will address the issues that most concern young people:


All too often research takes place about’ and not with’ the people who are the focus of a study. However, at Homeless Link, we recognise the importance of involving young people in our Young and Homeless research for ensuring maximum impact.


In advance of our study, in June 2017, we brought together 20 young people from the National Youth Reference Group (NYRG) to advise us on the design and development of our research. The NYRG is made up of young people aged 16-25 from communities across England with first-hand experience of homelessness.


In the course of our consultation with the NYRG, youth advisors scrutinised the surveys and provided invaluable insight into three key study topics. By incorporating this feedback into the research design, Homeless Link aims to ensure that the findings will affect change and address the issues which most concern young people.


1. Causes of Homelessness: Research has repeatedly demonstrated a breakdown in family relationships is the leading cause of youth homelessness. Our 2015 Young and Homeless report showed 47% of young people to have become homeless after their parents/care-givers were no longer able, or willing, to accommodate them.


In this consultation, the young advisors highlighted that the statistic fails to incorporate many of the complex reasons why young people leave their homes. The advisors felt that family, poverty, changes to welfare benefits, and young people’s difficulties in accessing employment, were some of the key factors leading to family relationship breakdown.


Following this feedback, Young and Homeless, through qualitative interviews with young people, will explore the key factors that underpin family breakdowns.


2. Prevention: Although under-researched, mediation can – where appropriate – be a key factor in preventing youth homelessness.


While some young advisors felt that mediation could help young people make smoother transitions into independent living, many participants reported, based on personal experiences that this intervention had not helped them to remain in the family home. Some of the key factors affecting the success of mediation were said to be: its introduction at crisis points, lack of early intervention, and geographical variations as to its availability.


In response to feedback on the significant variations in the nature and outcomes of mediation, the Young and Homeless project will investigate and highlight best practice for this type of intervention.


3. Access and availability of services: Some youth advisors identified difficulties accessing mental health services by young people who are homeless and stated a lack of services specifically designed for young people. Some of the youth advisors drew on their own experiences in describing the impact of this lack of services on their emotional, mental, physical and material well-being. As stated by one young person, ‘If I didn’t have my support network, God knows what would have happened.’


In response to this feedback on access to mental health services, Young and Homeless will explore the availability of mental health services and seek to identify how changes could be affected.


The young advisors incorporated the above topics in a list of questions for the qualitative interviews with young people. The group will reconvene in December to draw up a list of practical recommendations for policy makers and practitioners based on the findings of the report.