Violence a 'significant driver' of youth homelessness, finds study

By David Harris

| 02 August 2019

Violence and criminal exploitation have become "significant drivers" of youth homelessness, according to research by housing charity Centrepoint.

The threat of violence causes some young people to leave their homes, increasing their risk of exploitation, the study found

The study, which is based on a review of published research alongside interviews with practitioners and homeless young people, found that young people and families at risk from serious youth violence are often unable to access alternative accommodation, due to not being viewed as in priority need.

As a result, young people are often made to leave their home, becoming homeless and more vulnerable to crime and exploitation.

Centrepoint wants housing providers and charities working with homeless young people to ensure all staff have training and resources to identify and support young residents at risk of violence and criminal exploitation.

It is also calling for councils to place greater priority for housing homeless young people at risk of violence and exploitation, and for young people in supported accommodation to receive more help to access "sustainable and worthwhile employment".

In addition, all agencies working with vulnerable young people, such as those experiencing homelessness, should ensure they recognise trauma and that services are designed with psychologically informed principles in mind, the charity said.

Centrepoint found that there was a significant overlap between the factors understood to cause both youth violence and youth homelessness. They include poverty and exclusion, family breakdown, leaving the care system and difficulties with mental health or trauma.

It said that as police have become better at targeting "traditional" gang members, criminal gangs have turned to recruiting vulnerable people, who are less likely to attract attention from the authorities, such as younger teenagers and girls - two groups frequently exploited in "county lines" operations.

Research this year by the Children's Commissioner for England found there are around 27,000 children in England who identify as gang members, with a much wider group identified as being at risk of harm from gangs.

All of the homeless young people interviewed in the report said not having access to a stable source of income was a key reason why somebody might become involved in criminal activity.

The study also concluded that a lack of diversionary activities and targeted support for young people, from services such as youth centres and sports clubs, increases the risk of engaging in criminal activity.

Funding cuts to public bodies are a major contributor to the problem, Centrepoint said.

It argues that since 2010, police funding has been reduced by a fifth, local authority budgets by almost half and youth services by two thirds.

Centrepoint's study concludes that as a result of these cuts there is currently inadequate support available from youth services and family mediation services while access to therapies and mental health support is limited.

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, said: "Our research shines a light on how and why increasing levels of youth violence are pushing more and more young people into a cycle of homelessness.

"We're also seeing a worrying trend in which vulnerable young people are being exploited - with some authorities failing to make the link between homelessness and vulnerability to criminal exploitation.

"Rather than just addressing the consequences, policymakers need to focus on preventative measures; with an emphasis on stopping young people falling into the hands of criminals and addressing the increased risk of homelessness that can follow."

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