Preventing youth homelessness in Wales

To help develop our knowledge about what is currently being done in Wales on the prevention of youth homelessness, I was commissioned by the Wales Centre for Public Policy to carry out an initial mapping exercise of what interventions are in place in each of the 22 Welsh local authorities. In order to structure the mapping, I used the same prevention typology as that adopted by Kaitlin Schwan and colleagues in their international evidence review which identifies five categories of prevention; structural prevention, systems prevention, early intervention, eviction prevention and housing stability. The mapping was done from a housing perspective and drew on published information and telephone interviews with a key individual in each of the housing options teams.

The typology of prevention proved to be a useful framework within which to consider the range of youth homelessness interventions in place. The international evidence review concludes that, to be most effective, youth homelessness prevention should involve all five strands of prevention. The mapping shows that most local interventions in Wales fall into the systems prevention, early intervention and housing stabilisation categories. So there is work to do on structural prevention and eviction prevention specifically targeted at young people.

The mapping also demonstrates that working arrangements and services for young people facing homelessness vary significantly between authorities. Some authorities have multi-agency co-located teams, close working relationships between housing and children’s services and a range of prevention, housing and support options in place for young people up to the age of 25. In other authorities, it is apparent that even working practices required by legislation – e.g., joint assessments for 16 and 17 year olds, and pathway planning for care leavers – are not consistently undertaken. A minority of authorities take a generic approach to homelessness, expecting young people to access services and projects that are provided for all age groups, rather than having a more targeted and specialised approach. And while the mapping did not look at the effectiveness of the various interventions in place, the words of one local authority representative interviewed stick in my mind: ‘we have provision but we have too much failure – there is turnover because the schemes are not offering what the young people need’.

However, what was also evident from the conversations I had with interviewees is that youth homelessness is a dynamic area. A number of authorities have recently appointed specialist posts dedicated to preventing and tackling youth homelessness and many have plans for improved joint working with children’s services and external agencies. There is also evidence of innovation in provision in some authorities.

In this context, it was very positive to hear the statement by Rebecca Evans AM, Minister for Housing and Regeneration on November 20th 2018. The Minister emphasised that a cross-government approach is being taken to preventing and tackling youth homelessness. She also announced details of additional funding for 2019-20. Funding is being made available for a range of initiatives including a youth homelessness co-ordinator in each authority, a new innovation fund to support the development of suitable housing and support options for young people, a doubling of the St David’s Day fund which provides direct financial support to care leavers and an increase in the youth support grant.

I was really pleased to see the Minister identify the affordable housing review as important in addressing structural prevention. All authorities interviewed for the mapping identified a shortage of affordable general-needs housing for young people. The review offers an opportunity to recognise the structural difficulties that face young people in accessing suitable and affordable housing and put in place policies and funding mechanisms that will make a meaningful difference to young people across Wales.

On the same day as the Minister made her statement on youth homelessness, a Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness was published in Canada. The publication in Wales of the international evidence review and mapping and the Minister’s 20 November statement are important components in an emerging roadmap to end youth homelessness in Wales by 2027.