Homelessness research insights

The path towards homelessness in young people is characterised by three stages – a relationship breakdown in the home, a phase of gradually slipping during which they stay at friends’ houses and move around, and a final phase of alienation as they become close to homelessness. This path is not a simple linear process, but has a ‘snakes and ladders’ feel to it, with small things triggering a slide downwards into the next phase. Safety nets are often absent and eventually young people reach a point at which it is difficult to go back.

The Mix Staff

We were always arguing

Arguments in the home caused by cultural, religious or moral differences often made living in the family home untenable for young people. Changes in the family unit such as the death of a parent, divorce or the introduction of a new partner were also a significant cause of discord in the family.

The Young people we spoke to all reported constant arguments with their parents resulting in their decision to leave home. For some, new partners were cited as a real problem – making them feel they could not be themselves in their own homes.

In other cases, physical abuse or interventions from external services such as school, social services or the police also acted as an accelerant to family problems.

  • Those with a housing problem are over four times more likely to have experienced a relationship breakdown and over five times more likely to have experienced domestic violence. (Source: Crisis).
  • 81% for 16-17 year olds and 70% for 18-21 year olds reported family conflict was the reason for their referral to the St Basils Youth Hub (Source: St Basil’s).
  • Most of the homeless young people said they just didn’t get along with their parents (60%) (YouthNet Report).

I was always angry

Young people who became homeless – and particularly men – described themselves as being consistently angry and were vulnerable to making snap decisions particularly in the aftermath of a row. If things were not slowed down or patched up, irreversible decisions could be made in fury (for instance storming out of the house).

Although they may not admit it easily, young people recognised they could benefit from support from something to take the heat out of a situation, allow them to calm down and help them find a better way of talking to their parents to keep their relationship going.

  • “I was quite red. I was banging my head on a wall for hours. I had a massive headache. I was hot and worn out”. (YouthNet Research 2013).
  • Many young people are angry because they feel they are not seen or treated as individuals, with specific circumstances, but rather labeled as a difficult age group (YouthNet Research 2013).
  • Mobiles phones and dedicated apps were cited as a good way to stop ‘falling’ particularly is they could be “triggered” by something specific and provide diversion and immediate release from tension (YouthNet Research).

I never felt at home anywhere

Young people who have gone on to experience homelessness often reported longstanding feelings of being outsiders. This may be caused by cultural alienation from their parents or by differences in sexuality that made them feel comfortable or unsure about their identity and role. Others spoke of deep feelings of alienation throughout their teenage years, setting them apart and making them feel different to other people at school.

They may be confident in themselves but felt that they didn’t have many friends, perhaps fearing that no-one liked them. Many talked about shutting themselves away, preferring to keep their thoughts private rather than talk to others about them.

This withdrawal from their peer group allowed problems to escalate and increased their sense of being different. They felt that no-one was on their side.

  • ‘I didn’t connect to my culture. I didn’t connect to anyone. I was mixed race which was a relatively new thing. I didn’t fit in anywhere…. I was in between’ (YouthNet Research)
  • Under pressure Young People retreat, shutting themselves away from the world – pulling themselves further away from possible support (YouthNet Research 2013)
  • Young people see themselves as neither adult nor child, and feel they are ‘inbetween’. (YouthNet Inbetweeners Report 2012).
  • Young homeless people are considerably more vulnerable than the overall homeless population. E.g. 51% have been excluded from school, 40% have experienced abuse at home and 33% self harm. (YouthNet Report 2013)
  • Michelle Conroy (a homeless girl who died) was described as ‘lost’ to her family, to social service and to formal support. It was reported that Michelle had more than 100 friends on Facebook, many of whom claimed they would have offered to help had they known the extent of her situation. (Guardian Article)

I felt trapped

Young people who experienced homelessness described feeling that there was no way out of their situation and that they had struggled to understand potential options. They knew that things needed to change but had no idea how to do it.

Some talked about how they could not see any future for them when they were older and worried they would end up like their parents. In general their schools did not help them, often confirming their anxieties by writing them off as people with no potential.

Leaving home for these young people was their attempt to find a way to control their lives when everything around them was going disastrously wrong. What they don’t understand is that they may have been making themselves more vulnerable by doing this and that understanding the implications of any actions was of vital importance.

  • ‘My school leaving prize was person most likely to end up in prison’. (YouthNet Research 2013).
  • It’s really important to show people what they can do and the steps that they need to take to do it. Young people need to think about their choices before they make them. (YouthNet Young Leaders Research, 2013).
  • Many young people were unaware of the services and housing opportunities available to them. A recurrent theme was the important role in education that schools can play. (Joseph Rowntree Report, 2008).
  • Young homeless people often do not get the help they need from local authorities or formal support services. Instead they ‘get by’ often with disastrous consequences – the wrong housing situation preventing even the most positive and resilient young people from progressing in life (YouthNet Report).

It happened so quickly

When young people left home or were thrown out, it was almost always very sudden. This event may have been precipitated by a specific act of violence or an argument. This meant that young people could leave home completely unprepared for life with no roof over their heads, warm clothes or money in their pocket.

  • Violence featured in around 20% of relationship breakdowns.
  • YouthNet Research highlighted the very rapid escalation of circumstances that happens to young people before finding themselves homeless (YouthNet Research 2013).
  • When young people leave home they lose an important anchor or base. Although the perceived rewards of living independently are attractive to young people, for those without parental support it can feel like a very fragile transition. Many describe the problems raised by a stark transition where they had not been able to develop or test the necessary skills for independent living (YouthNet Report 2013).

I can’t admit I’m homeless – even to my best friend

Young people want to feel like they can look after themselves and this makes it hard to accept the reality of being homeless.

While many would routinely stay with friends, they were reluctant to tell their friends that they had nowhere else to go and were worried it would change the nature of their friendships. They were concerned about the stigma associated with homelessness and didn’t want to be labelled, judged or seen as a burden.

This sense of denial was further pressured by the knowledge that without this lifeline their circumstances would be much worse. For them the alternatives, (hostels, the streets), seemed unthinkable.

  • Precarious living arrangements make it difficult to plan, to regroup, to pull their life together and to relax. When staying with people, they face challenges, negotiating how to live with others on a temporary basis, understanding what is expected and acceptable to all parties. (YouthNet Report, 2013).
  • The experience of sofa surfing is wide and nuanced and may include: exchanging ‘services’ for a roof on a temporary basis, ‘house sitting’ for friends or acquaintances while they are away, staying with people they have known for many years or insecure tenancies where a group of people share the property but only one holds the tenancy (in this instance occupation can often fluctuate and can be unpredictable) (YouthNet Report).
  • Most people who are homeless – in the sense of not having a home – do not live on the street (Source: Guardian article).
  • 34% of 18-21 years olds were staying with friends when referred to St Basil’s Youth Hub (Source: Youth Hub Report 2012).
  • Most young people who found themselves homeless seek help from friends – 20% believed they outstayed their welcome and the average time before seeking formal help was 6.9 months (Source: Crisis).

Every day that passed made it harder for me to copy

Young people found looking after themselves became more difficult the longer they went without a permanent place to stay. Simple things like keeping clean, washing clothes, getting enough food and staying fit may well take more time and effort. The difficulty of “sofa surfing” was further compounded by the fact that in many cases young people had to negotiate with the owner of the sofa on a daily basis – often a friend’s parent.

Over time young people lost their emotional and physical resilience which in turn increased their personal distress and made them more vulnerable. They became prone to making bad decisions and bad choices. As their ability to cope came under pressure, small upsets SY0-301 could have a big impact; sometimes causing things to spiral out of control.

  • Sofa surfing has a big impact physically as well as emotionally. Physical examples are a deterioration in diet, health, lack of sleep. Psychological examples are a lack of entitlement and dignity and feelings of insecurity (YouthNet Report, 2013).
  • Samaritans’ Emotional Health Scale shows how strength 220-802 and resilience can turn into distress as a result of subsequent negative events.

I can’t trust anyone

Many young people talked about how they needed support to help their life take a positive turn, enabling them to take the first steps to a way of living that they felt happy and comfortable with. This sometimes took the form of a person who saw potential in them and could offer practical or emotional advice to put their circumstances on a more firm footing and give them a role in society (a place in a hostel, going back to education, voluntary work). This would begin to give them faith in themselves and in their own ability.

But for many, going to social services or the police just wasn’t an option. Nearly all of the young people who had experienced homelessness stressed that no one knew how it felt to be homeless until it happened to them and traditional support systems simply did not understand. They felt deeply that they needed to talk to people who had been through the same experiences and could actually empathise with their situation. Only these people will really understand them and be able to give them not just the practical support but emotional help.

  • Many young people talked with great distrust of the social services and the police. Their experiences highlighted that often when they became involved, things got much worse. They stressed the importance of having people to talk to who had been through similar experiences and could genuinely empathise with their situation (YouthNet Research, 2013).
  • Young people who had been homeless stressed the importance of talking to real people: ‘Get your story out there. Talk to friends, your mum, other homeless people, it opens up a network of support’ (YouthNet Interviews, 2013).
  • For many homeless young people the experience of having someone who really cares about you is unusual – ‘She would call me at 11 at night and ask if I had eaten. She was like a guardian angel who had popped out of the woodwork.’ (YouthNet Research)

I have nothing to do

Young people described having lots of time on their hands while homeless. They felt things always being the same, day after day. Lots of appointments, waiting and hoping. Looking for accommodation and walking around.

Lack of money also meant that they have very limited options, so they were having to find places to hang around and keep warm and dry during the day.

As a result doing things (like selling drugs) could sometimes help structure their day and give them a sense of purpose.

They felt particularly desperate and lonely in the early hours of the morning – for example, walking around looking for somewhere safe to sleep, or waking up and wanting to go back to sleep to avoid facing their lives. The nature of their daily cycle changed – they may be up and walking the streets when most people were asleep and asleep when others went to school or work.

  • I wake in the morning and wish I was still asleep – nothing to do. (YouthNet Research).
  • Young people all stress the need for safeguarding advice, where to go to be safe from drug dealers, pimps and how to prevent being approached if you are out and about (Youthnet Research).

Homelessness never leaves you

Young people described homelessness as an experience that could not easily be forgotten. But supporting other vulnerable or homeless people was a positive way for them of rebuilding their own self esteem and confidence. In same cases, giving them a sense of worth and belief they had never experienced as children. By channeling their personal experiences for good, getting involved in volunteering opportunities and helping others who were facing similar circumstances, they were able to benefit themselves and begin a more positive journey.

  • In interviews, young people who had been homeless described the experience as never leaving them. One young person describing homelessness as ‘a pathway, a journey that you take and its not a journey that ever stops. I have a place, my own job but that journey is part of who I am now’. (YouthNet Interviews, 2013).
  • Young people who worked with other vulnerable people described it as ‘an amazing therapy, it helps you feel confident which changes everything’. (YouthNet interviews, 2013)


Published on 07-Oct-2013