Prevention is Better than Cure

Friday, 31 January 2020 - 9:58am

Young people become homeless for a whole host of reasons including structural factors, systems failures and individual circumstances. In this blog, Homeless Link's Alex Smith and Lauren Page-Hammick, explore how Housing First can be a solution.

Young people become homeless for a whole host of reasons including structural factors, systems failures and individual circumstances. The complex interplay of these disadvantages will impact young people’s journey into homelessness and the support they need to manage the challenging circumstances they find themselves in.

One challenge young people experiencing homelessness and other disadvantages face is the transition to adulthood. Our current systems don’t recognise the enormous developmental change young people continue to go through after their 18th birthday, as highlighted by a collection of essays edited by the Children’s Society. Expectations and attitudes of services including housing, social services, mental health, and the criminal justice system all change from one day to the next. This doesn’t recognise the change and reorganisation our brains continue to go through after our 18th birthday, impacting the way we plan, empathise, reason and regulate emotions.

Systems also often fail to recognise the extent that young people who become homeless have  experienced trauma including violence, abuse and neglect; often from a young age and often for a number of years. These experiences can impact the way we process, organise and respond to information.  All of these things can have an effect on our emotional management and regulation, how we communicate, our coping strategies, the way we relate to the world, and our sense of safety within it.

Adolescence and early adulthood is a time of growth; young people need to be able to flex, take risks, make mistakes and try again, all from a space of safety and security. This is particularly true for individuals with experiences of trauma. Young people who are homeless are often expected to make the transition to adulthood without the time, support, safety and patience required. The Housing First approach can provide a solution to this.

Housing First is a housing and support approach which:

  • Gives people who have experienced homelessness and chronic health and social care needs a stable home from which to rebuild their lives.
  • Provides intensive, person-centred, holistic support that is open-ended.
  • Places no conditions on individuals; however, they should desire to have a tenancy.

We say that Housing First is for people who have experiences of multiple disadvantage, which can be described as interrelated health and/or social care needs, which impact on an individual’s life and ability to function in society.  The way we visualise multiple disadvantage often means we do not often think of 16-25 year olds and therefore haven’t always considered how Housing First would be a suitable model for young people.

However, we know that there are a number of young people who are already experiencing multiple disadvantage, for whom traditional housing pathways do not work and where, like adults, a more intensive housing model is needed.

Housing First for Young People is currently being delivered in Scotland, where The Rock Trust and Almond Housing Association have been successfully supporting young people through a Housing First model for over 2 years. They spoke about their motivation to deliver a Housing First service to young people:

We are housing adults with multiple complex needs but we asked the question, why aren’t we doing more earlier on?  These adults were the young people of 10/20 years ago – let’s provide housing and intensive support BEFORE we get to a situation of chronic homelessness.

As described in The Rock Trust’s blog, Housing First for Youth has its own set of principles, developed through the Homeless Hub: We have been asking the question:

Do we need separate principles?

The answer is, no!  The 7 Principles of Housing First, developed by Housing First England are as applicable to young people as they are to adults and to ensure consistency as the Housing First movement grows, we believe that high fidelity to those 7 Principles will make a Housing First for Youth service successful.  That is not to say however that young people do not have different needs to adults, and if you are considering a Housing First for Youth service, there are three key points to bear in mind:

  • A young person’s stage and age of cognitive development and ensuring that you have specialist youth workers within the service
  • An understanding that the young person has less experience and they are still developing their resilience skills 
  • A home for life is not always what a young person wants, so the service needs to ensure there is some flexibility to move. Young people may need different types of accommodation at different times, including supported accommodation.

Housing First for young people is working and we at Homeless Link would like to see the development of more Housing First for Youth projects being developed, as prevention truly is better than cure.

To hear more about Housing First for youth, join us at our national Housing First Conference 2020, taking place in central London on 16th March:

You can find more information about the Rock Trust’s Housing First programme here