Youth Homelessness: Moving Towards Prevention

WCPP’s  reports on Preventing Youth Homelessness were published in 2018. Since then, we have been working with a range of stakeholders to communicate our key findings and to assist in the move towards a preventative system in Wales.

Together with End Youth Homelessness Cymru, we convened an event on the 9th of March to provide space for reflection on progress in Wales toward ending youth homelessness and to hear  from those delivering innovative solutions  elsewhere in the world.

We heard from an excellent range of speakers, including key notes from Julie James AM, Minister for Housing and Local Government, and from Melanie Redman and Stephen Gaetz, Canadian experts who contributed to our report.

The messages we heard have only become more pressing given the unfolding Covid-19 crisis. While measures taken during lockdown might mask the problem temporarily, the economic impact of the outbreak could result in rising youth homelessness. The lessons below summarise how we might make sure that every young person has a home.


Young People need a distinct response

Youth homelessness is not just ‘homelessness junior’. Young people have distinct reasons for becoming homeless from older people and distinct needs when they do, so we should respond accordingly.

Some of this means taking into account the fact that children and young people will access and experience services differently from adults: for instance, they might turn to school staff for help rather than government services. And family, whether positively or negatively, will normally play a role for young people in a way that they might not for adults (EYHC’s report into LGBTQ+ young people’s experiences of homelessness found that often their crisis was precipitated by family rejection).

These challenges, and the developmental differences between young people and older people, mean that Wales should have a specific strategy and approach for youth homelessness.


Data matters… but so does what we do with it

Part of the shift to prevention involves early identification. This means attempting to find those young people who might be at risk of homelessness so that interventions can be put in place before they lose their home.

In Wales, many local authorities have adapted the pre-existing Youth Engagement and Progression Framework (YEPF) to test for risk of homelessness. YEPF was originally designed to find individuals at risk of becoming NEET, but practitioners are working on amending their approach to also use this approach to identify those at risk of homelessness.

At our event we heard about more targeted early identification tools. The Upstream Project, for instance, uses bespoke school-based surveys to screen all pupils to assess their risk of becoming homeless. This model, based on an innovative project in Australia, is more resource-intensive, although early findings in the US and Australia indicate that it is successful at identifying young people who would otherwise be missed by other methods. The planned Welsh pilots will help us to see what this can effectively be translated to the Welsh system.

There was a consensus in the room that what data we collect matters, but that the important thing is how we use it. School-based models, such as YEPF and Upstream, are as good as the relationships that arise between educators and practitioners. And, after early identification, the next interventions should be carefully-adapted to young people. The YAP tool could be one way to assess need after this phase, but would need to be adapted to the Welsh context.


Change takes Collective Action

Many in the room felt that we needed to change some aspects of current systems. But it was recognised that changes would take time to be properly implemented, and would require cooperation and additional resource to do properly.

Embedding relationships between different communities of practice, such as between youth workers, homelessness officers, and educators, requires time to develop mutual trust; but there are encouraging signs (not least from the engagement at this event!) that this is happening in Wales.

New projects should be properly evaluated so we can see if they work — and we should recognise that some approaches will be more effective than others. Frances Beecher, Chair of EYHC, noted the need to trial new practices and ’fail fast’ where they did not work. Wales is in a good place to innovate, thanks to existing attempts toward a joined-up response and the Duty to Assist,  which makes  local authorities responsible for helping those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Moving toward the next step will require results from the selection of innovative approaches underway to be evaluated quickly and for the collaboration that has been developed so far to continue.


Reforming Housing is Crucial

Of the array of ideas shared at the event, there was a focus on housing in many, though it was accepted that housing represents only part of the solution. In the current housing crisis, the particular housing needs of young people on low incomes and those who have experienced homelessness must now be taken into account.

Two approaches that are being taken forward in Wales were shared at the event, based on international good practice. The first, led by United Welsh Housing Association, takes inspiration from NAL, the Finnish Youth Housing Association, who offer genuinely affordable housing designed with young people’s needs in mind. The biggest challenge here is affordability.

The other key housing approach discussed was Housing First for Youth (HF4Y), a youth-focused variation on the Housing First approach which offers housing with no preconditions. Six HF4Y pilots are currently underway in Wales.

Learning from and appropriately expanding both of these models could make a huge difference to ultimately ending youth homelessness in Wales.


System Change is at the Heart of Ending Youth Homelessness

Delegates at the event heard directly from Angharad, Chloe and Charlie, three young people who have been homeless in recent years, all of whom have lived in the care system. Young people often become homelessness, even if not immediately, after leaving the care system, meaning that listening to the voices of those who have experience of care will be fundamental if we are to avoid ‘systems failures’ which result in youth homelessness.

Forthcoming research from EYHC, which involves the voices of young people from across Wales, will deal with this issue specifically, which, alongside WCPP’s work on care-experienced young people, will contribute to an evidence base on the care system in Wales. These systems failures are not unique to Wales, but represent a challenge that will need to be overcome if we are to end youth homelessness.


You can download all the presentations from the event below.

Slide pack 1 contains:

  • Experience of making the shift to youth homelessness prevention in Canada
  • Housing Associations for Young People
  • Systems Failures: How can we prevent homelessness from the care system

Slide pack 2 contains:

  • Housing First for Youth
  • Upstream in Canada and Wales
  • The YAP Tool


Watch our interviews from the day below: