“Just walking through the doors of the YMCA and seeing the staff and the residents and having banter with them and talking to them. It’s just like having a home away from home and having a sense of family. I think you can’t really put a price on that…”
YMCA DownsLink Group is a charity working across Sussex and Surrey to support young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. We work hard to provide young people with a safe place to live, and, more than this, the skills and support they need to ensure they can maintain this and never have to return to a life on the streets.
We also work to tackle the root causes of youth homelessness. In order to break the cycle of homelessness, we provide holistic support for young people through; supported accommodation, training, learning, support & advice, counselling and mediation, giving them hope for a positive future.
“Without support from YMCA Youth Advice Centre I would have been lost and wouldn’t have known where to turn. They helped me during a very emotional and difficult time for me, when I was finding it hard to think straight and had nowhere else to turn. I now have a safe place to live thanks to their excellent help and support.”
The impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable young people and those at risk of homelessness
Homelessness, mental health issues, family breakdown and unemployment/financial issues have always been factors impacting the lives of the vulnerable young people in our communities. Covid-19 has hugely exacerbated these issues. After an initial 61% increase in presentations of homelessness, we are now seeing a continued 20% increase in the numbers of young people who are reaching out for support, as well as an increase in the complexity of issues they are presenting to us.
Right now, young people are coming to us with an increased threat of homelessness as relationships at home break down. Those already in contact with us are experiencing heightened feelings of isolation, anxiety and fear. They need our help now more than ever so that we can help them see the possibility of a safe and positive future and support them in their journey to get there.
The rise of youth homelessness
When it comes to youth homelessness, the statistics* speak for themselves:
- It is estimated that 20% of homeless people are aged 16 to 24.
- Approximately 40% of 16-25 year olds in the UK have sofa-surfed at some point due to having nowhere to live.
- One in ten young people who have sofa-surfed did so for more than a month in total.
We know that rough sleeping is a significant challenge in our area, with some of the highest numbers for rough sleeping outside of London. Significant changes to housing benefit, alongside the staggering rise in house prices and rents, means homes, particularly in the South East, are increasingly unaffordable. Since the start of the pandemic, job losses have particularly affected young people who are more likely to be in insecure employment or working in the gig economy.
In addition, many of the young people sleeping rough in our area have multiple and compound needs. This means that they may experience several overlapping problems at the same time, such as mental ill health, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, exploitation, offending and family breakdown. This group of people require greater levels of support to find a route off the streets and can struggle to engage with the services they need to get help.
As well as the homeless young people we see on the streets, there are also those we don’t see – the hidden homeless. These are the young people who are sofa-surfing or finding temporary accommodation with family and friends, and therefore not present in the statistics shared around homelessness. Some stay with strangers and may be exploited, having to exchange sex for somewhere to stay.
Care leavers are at a higher risk of youth homelessness
A group of young people who are particularly at risk of homelessness are care leavers. They often have little choice but to deal with the challenges and responsibilities of living independently at a young age. For some, traumatic experiences in their early years can make them especially vulnerable. Almost 30% of the young people living in our supported housing fall into this category. We provide a vital stepping stone for those young people who aren’t ready to live alone. As well as a safe place to live, our ‘More Than a Room’ programme aims to develop ‘resilience’ in our young residents, so, however difficult their start in life, they can go on and live successful, independent lives.
Breaking the cycle of youth homelessness – our approach
Homelessness often becomes a cycle, linked with a lack of employment, education and training opportunities. Recent statistics show that there were 771,000 young people (aged 16 to 24 years) in the UK who were not in education, employment or training (NEET) between January and March 2020. This is an increase of 6,000 compared to the same period of 2019 – and this is only the young people we know about. There are many more who are missed by these surveys, especially those who are homeless.
These combined issues affect the young people living with us and mean that conventional learning programmes with rigid dates, limited options and schedules often do not work for them. Many courses do not consider the additional challenges in their life that may prevent them from adapting positively to a ‘standard’ learning environment. As well as this, there’s no provision for young people to have a dream, or aspirations of where they want to be. The focus is on getting people into a job – any job – as quickly as possible. Funding means that opportunities are given to those who seem most likely to succeed and stay in work, which means that those in supported housing are often side-lined as they are perceived to be less reliable.
We believe that ending homelessness needs to be about more than providing accommodation. It’s about providing people with the holistic support and advice they need to prevent them from becoming homeless or returning to the streets. This is why we run a range of programmes, from basic life skills (More Than a Room) to education, training (Employability) and mentoring (Positive Placements) to ensure that our residents are given those skills and opportunities. However, our programmes are not simply about learning skills, securing qualifications, or employment; they are also about building trust, self-esteem and confidence. The young people we work with are often lacking a trusted adult role model in their lives, so the relationship they form with their Project Worker, Skills Advisor or Positive Placements mentor is key to learning how to build safe and secure relationships. The difference we make is clear; in 2020, over 78% of the young people living in our supported accommodation moved on positively to independent living.
Projects run by YMCA DownsLink Group to tackle youth homelessness
- We provide a range of supported accommodation throughout Sussex and Guildford (Brighton&Hove, Crawley, Eastbourne, Guildford, Horsham, Mid Sussex, Hastings) from 24-hour support for those with the most complex needs, through to ‘move-on’ accommodation for young people who have successfully completed our training and skills programme and are ready to embark upon independent living.
“When I’m here I can come down, I can talk to anyone when I need to if I need the help or I just need someone to talk to then they’re here. There’s always the support round here, no matter what you’ve got on your mind.”
- Our Youth Advice Centres (YAC) deliver a one-stop shop for young people to provide them with advice, intervention and sign-posting on a range of issues, such as housing, benefits, mental health support, work & training, sexual abuse and family relationship problems. Last year the YAC in Brighton & Hove alone supported 1,700 young people and their parents/carers. Our staff triage each situation individually and recommend a pathway of next steps to follow to get the help they need to find safe and secure accommodation.
- Through YAC we provide a Family Mediation Service for young people aged 14 to 25. The purpose of family mediation is to try and support families to stay together where this can be done in a healthy and supportive way. If this is not possible, then the young person is supported into alternative accommodation. Last year our family mediation service enabled 71% of the families they saw to stay together, therefore reducing instances of homelessness.
- More Than a Room: Practical skill sessions led by project workers within supported accommodation to equip young people with everyday skills they will need to live independently (budgeting, life ‘admin’, cooking, cleaning etc).
- Employability Programme: Once we have addressed the immediate crisis needs of young people who come to us, we work with them to create a plan for their future via our education, skills and training programme and skills advisors. Our approach is to be led by the young person to help them find a path that is genuinely suitable and sustainable for them.
- Positive Placements is our mentoring scheme. We pair young people with a volunteer who can support them to explore potential careers paths, get work experience or access the appropriate training.
“From the beginning I was shy about it but now I am able to comfortably sit down and have long chats about anything really. My mentor has helped me to build my CV up and to have more confidence in myself. He takes an interest in anything I say and has helped me to organise my life”
What impact does the work of YMCA DownsLink Group have?
We are the biggest provider of youth support services in the South East. Our projects and services provide homes for young people at risk of homelessness as well as a range of preventative services that are so vital to vulnerable young people in our communities. Our services give hope to young people in crisis, and, the chance to get onto a path towards a brighter, independent future.
“From where I’ve been and where I’ve come today, I’m quite proud of it to be honest.”
- 10,800 young people accessed our services
- 763 homeless young people provided with safe accommodation every night
- 62% of young people living with us were enabled to engage with education, employment or training opportunities
- 500 young people were given support and advice via our Skills Advisors
- 77 young people were mentored through our Positive Placements scheme
- 3,142 children, young people & families were supported by our counselling service (YMCA Dialogue)
- 1,700 young people and their parents/carers in crisis were provided with support and advice through our Youth Advice Centres
- 71% of the families who were seen by the Family Mediation Service were helped to stay together, therefore reducing homelessness
- 4,598 children and young people were reached through our youth work programmes
- 78% of young people living in supported accommodation moved on successfully into independent living
- 20% increase in the numbers of young people reaching out for support
“I’d like to work in a care home looking after young people who have had difficulties. I’d like to give something back because I know how hard it is. I’ve been there and I’m so glad my bad days are over. But other people’s aren’t…”
Support our work tackling youth homelessness in your community
*Centrepoint Databank Information