Last year, around 122,000 young people in the UK approached their local council for housing support. But what does that really mean?
Homelessness is more than just sleeping on the streets. While this can be the most dangerous, and most visible, form of homelessness, it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Homelessness means not having a place to call home – a place that is private, secure, decent and affordable and where you have a right to stay. Simply having a roof over your head is not enough, as Natalie’s story shows.
If it is unsafe for you to stay where you are, if you cannot afford to live there or you are forced to constantly move, you can still be considered homeless.
For many young people this is a dangerous reality. Welfare reforms and the cost of living crisis have increasingly taken away young people’s options. So many of the young people our charity partners see are trapped in a cycle of homelessness, moving from sofa to sofa, not knowing where they will sleep that night.
And not having a stable home makes everything else more difficult: holding down a job, staying in school or education, even just keeping yourself clean and looking presentable.
What are the main causes?
The single biggest cause is family breakdown, which was a factor in almost half of youth homelessness cases last year. This is where young people are unable to continue living with their parents or care-givers for reasons such as conflict, violence and sexual abuse.
Personal problems such as mental health difficulties or substance abuse issues can leave young people more vulnerable to becoming homeless. And once young people fall into homelessness, these problems are more likely to become more acute. Young people from certain backgrounds are also more likely to fall victim to homelessness, with care leavers, refugees, and young people in the criminal justice system more at risk.
Various social problems can also lead to homelessness: low incomes, unemployment, lack of education and training and housing shortages can all play a part. The cost of living crisis is worsening the situation, with delayed Universal Credit payments, sanctions and the capping of the Local Housing Allowance all having an impact.