A Way Home Scotland - Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathways
A Way Home Scotland is a national coalition working to end youth homelessness in Scotland. We have a diverse membership, from education, health, justice, housing, and homelessness sectors and use a collective impact approach. We inspire and facilitate change by promoting and developing preventative strategies to end youth homelessness. We have contributed to the Homelessness and Rough Action Sleeping Group (HARSAG) in both 2018 and 2020, we have led on the development of the first Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathway for care-leavers in 2019, and we launched our prevention pathway for all young people at the end of March this year. In the past years, we have also established a youth steering group ‘Aff the Streets’ to ensure the coalition’s agenda is continually shaped and influenced by young people with lived experience. We aim to continue supporting the implementation of the Ending Homelessness Together Plan and Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathways by working more closely with local authorities to develop and deliver youth strategies as part of their Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTPs).
Over the past few years, we have worked to identify areas of good practice, sharing methodologies, and supporting the development of national Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathways. Following consultations with local authorities, as well as with coalition members and young people, we have identified the need to focus our efforts on prevention. Our pathways provide clear guidance on how to avoid, resolve and move on from homelessness, with responses tailored around the needs of young people such as access to housing, advice to young people and their families, targeted support, immediate accommodation to offer that is safe, adequate, and affordable. Our focus on prevention includes creating systems of referral and joined-up working from education to youth work, implementing our housing pathways so no young person is discharged into homelessness and transitioning from congregate housing models to youth-specific mainstream housing.
Our work is underpinned by the voices and experiences of young people from Aff the Streets, our National Youth Steering Group. The members of Aff the Streets are young people who have experienced homelessness or have experienced unsafe, precarious, or overcrowded housing and have therefore been at risk of homelessness. To ensure meaningful involvement of young people in the policy-making process, Aff the Streets has a permanent seat at the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG), and that provides a unique opportunity for our young representatives to bring their experiences and voices to an important policy forum. Aff the Streets is also part of the Change Team, a one-of-a-kind forum that has enabled young people to be seen and heard and has given practitioners and frontline workers a deeper understanding of the barriers young people face and the particular needs they require. Both our pathways have been developed with the full support of young people and we would not publish a policy document without having their endorsement. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made the involvement of young people extremely more challenging, as we have had fewer opportunities to create and maintain stable relationships. Nonetheless, even if at a slower rate, our work with young people has continued and we hope to gain more reach and visibility as restrictions are lifted and face-to-face meeting can safely resume.
In 2018, HARSAG recommended that pathways to prevent homelessness should be developed for groups that evidence tells us are more at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping, including young people. In 2019, The Scottish Government’s HPSG tasked us with developing youth homelessness prevention pathways for young people at risk or experiencing homelessness in Scotland. The first pathway was launched in 2019, and it is aimed at care leavers, a group particularly over-represented within the homelessness population in Scotland, and our second pathway launched just a few months ago, is aimed at all young people.
The statistics have consistently been showing a need for specific policy papers addressing youth homelessness. Indeed, in Scotland young people between the age of 16-25 account for almost 12% of the overall population, nonetheless they comprise near 25% of all homeless applications, making them the most disproportionately overrepresented group within the homeless community. As homelessness is not simply a housing issue, providing housing alone will not contribute to a healthy transition into adulthood for most young people who are forced to leave their families and homes without skills and support. That is why youth-specific preventative responses should be widely developed and adopted throughout Scotland.
Our Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathway for All Young People, and its recommendations, have been drafted by members and partners of the coalition to end youth homelessness, as well as ad hoc partners and young people. Whilst the coalition and partners considered the needs of young people generally, groups of young people particularly at risk, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people, young people who have experienced childhood adversity, children, and young people in conflict with the law and young people who experience health issues were a particular focus. Young people leaving care are also at an increased risk of homelessness and have additional legal protections and rights, therefore a separate and specific pathway document was created to support practice and implementation in this area. However young people on the edges of care or who are care experienced and do not have these protections are considered in our latest pathway.
It is widely acknowledged that relationship breakdown is one of the primary causes of homelessness for young people, although the data is not deep enough to detail the causes of this relationship breakdown. A recent study indicated that the experience of childhood adversity was a significant risk factor for homelessness around the age of 16. It is also worth noting that a key structural factor that undoubtedly underpins this issue is poverty. Research has shown that young people disproportionately bear the burden of poverty, which together with housing and labour precariousness and discrimination, drive youth homelessness. An important aspect of youth homelessness is that young people are more likely to be part of the “hidden homeless” population. While in Scotland data is collected routinely across all local authorities, those numbers do not include young people “sofa-surfing”, staying with friends or families, in unsafe, precarious, or overcrowded housing, therefore excluding a potentially high number of young people at risk. Additionally, the information we do have relies on self-reporting and we know that there may be inaccuracies as young people may not disclose the real circumstances or causes of their homelessness. Young people who experience homelessness often share common experiences including being LGBT, experiencing neglect or abuse, truanting, leaving school early, running away or parental ill health, substance use or violence at home. We need to improve the quality of the data collected and the assessment process to encourage young people to provide accurate information and assess the need of the population to direct provision.
Preventing youth homelessness is possible, but it is important to understand its causes first, the characteristics of the groups at risk of experiencing it and the policies, strategies, and interventions needed to fulfil this aim. As youth homelessness is more than a housing issue, then its economic, social, and cultural roots need to be considered when looking at prevention. That is why our pathway follows a five-tier model of prevention, considering universal, targeted, crisis, emergency, and recovery prevention. We also call for a national approach to youth homelessness’ policies, strategies, systems, services, and practice. This requires change across youth, welfare, education, health, justice, housing, homelessness and the children and families’ sectors and departments at both a national and local level. Our pathway sets out practical and achievable goals that are based on working in partnership across sectors, moving away from the idea that homelessness is a housing problem, and placing the experiences and needs of young people at the core of all activities. The pathway contains 16 recommendations and three calls for action. These actions aim to:
Create an implementation-plan working group with the Scottish Government to implement and monitor the progress of the recommendations.
Establish cross-departmental groups to identify processes, systems and services which need to be changed or adapted to meet the needs of young people.
Create local strategies and implementation plans to address youth homelessness, including population-based approaches, targeted interventions and systems change.
We are now working with the Scottish Government to implement the recommendations of both pathways at the local level, helping local authorities developing or improving their housing strategies for young people. This work is the result of real partnership working and commitment towards a shared goal, and I am very grateful to our partners, the Scottish Government and our young people, for their unparalleled support.
Policy and Influencing Co-ordinator A Way Home Scotland