photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

A leading UK charity has warned of the “tragic waste of young lives” lost to homelessness, as they prepare to open their doors to an expected 4,000 homeless people this Christmas.

Research conducted by Cardiff University, on behalf of the homeless charity Crisis, reveals how on average young people first become homeless at just 22, with half (48%) aged under 21 and one-third (34%) aged under 18 when they first become homeless.

Crisis warns that two-thirds of vulnerable young people who experience homelessness do so on a recurring basis, because they don’t get the help and support they desperately need to stay off the streets.

Where homeless people turned to their local authority for help and support, nearly two-thirds said they had received no advice, only very basic advice or were referred elsewhere.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “Homelessness is a horrifying experience for anyone, but it is especially damaging for young people, who often become homeless again and again because they can’t get the help they need.

“This is a tragic waste of young lives. We need to make sure people can get help at an early stage.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. Yet the sad reality is that homeless people who ask their councils for help are being turned away to sleep on the streets.

“That’s why Crisis is calling on party leaders to review the support given to single homeless people under the law. In this day and age, no one should face the horrors of the streets.”

The research provides the first ever profile of homelessness people in Britain, says Crisis. It warns that young homeless people are often trapped in a vicious circle that leaves them vulnerable to violence and mental health problems, with some turning to substance abuse to escape from the reality of a miserable life.

61% of homeless young women have experienced violence or abuse from a partner and nearly half of all homeless people have had mental health problems.

10% of homeless people have never had a place to call home in all of their adult life.

Report author, Dr Peter Mackie said: “This report is the first to reveal the real differences in people’s experiences of homelessness and of seeking help since devolution.

“Whilst the assistance in Scotland is clearly better than anywhere else, it is worrying that across Great Britain we are failing to assist the vast majority of single people who become homeless.

“If we want to prevent problems from growing for these people and of course for wider society, we must make assistance available to all homeless people.”

Jon Sparkes added: “Christmas should be a time for family and friends, for warmth and celebration, yet for homeless people it can be one of the hardest periods of the year – a cold, lonely time to be suffered rather than enjoyed.

“That’s why, every year, Crisis at Christmas opens its doors to thousands of homeless people, offering warmth, shelter, food and companionship, as well as access to vital services.

“None of this would be possible without the generosity and compassion of thousands of individuals, organisations and companies, who give their time, funds and goods to make Christmas happen for some of society’s most vulnerable people.”

Crisis is calling on politicians from all parties to ensure homeless people can get the help they need, and urges the public to sign its No One Turned Away petition.