One in five young people in the UK have sofa-surfed in the past year and almost half of them have done so for more than a month.
In a city – and a country – that is among the wealthiest in the world, how can this be possible?
The report estimates that there are 13 times more hidden homeless people in London than those who are sleeping rough. Our own figures, based on surveys by YouGov and ComRes, suggest that almost a quarter of a million under-25s in London have stayed in an unsafe place because they have nowhere to call home.
The first problem is that this country is not very good at counting all the people who need support with housing, something that has been a concern to both the UK Statistics Authority and the Communities and Local Government select committee in recent years.
Until we have an honest debate about who should be counted as homeless, no government will be able to ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to tackling the problem.
As the committee’s report highlights today, rough sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg. While the government has attempted to funnel financial resources to support those already on the streets, the funding for other individuals who have nowhere to live has too often been lacking. That leaves local authorities without the money to offer support to this much bigger group.
The current law, rightly, ensures that very vulnerable people – such as care leavers, under-18s, those with children, and men and women fleeing domestic violence – are prioritised for support.
The law does not preclude support being given to people outside these categories, but in practice there is simply not enough money left in the system for local authorities to go much beyond their legal duties. As assembly members point out, that means that some vulnerable groups are not guaranteed support, including thousands of young people that are housed and supported by Centrepoint.
Many people who are classified as hidden homeless could qualify for support, particular under the new Homelessness Reduction Act, which was passed into law earlier this year. But too often young people do not know where to go for help. Whether through adverts on public transport or helplines, much more could be done to publicise existing support.
Tackling homelessness requires many responses – more affordable homes, a more practical approach to benefits, and appropriate financial support for local councils – but more than anything, it requires us to be open. Open about the scale of the problem, and open about the resources required to deal with it, even if that means spending more in the short term.
- Paul Noblet is head of public affairs at Centrepoint
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