Most people think homelessness is about sleeping rough on the streets. But homelessness can be experienced in many different ways and is often hidden from society. This is especially true for young people. 

Sofa surfing, staying with friends, or living in unstable temporary accommodation, is increasingly becoming the norm for many vulnerable young people who find themselves without a safe place to stay.  

In 2022, the official number of young people experiencing homelessness rose from 120,000 to 129,000, but the real number is thought to be much higher. The cost-of-living crisis; increased rents, and the lifting of the eviction ban in 2021, mean that more young people than ever are experiencing hidden homelessness. 

What does hidden homelessness look like?    

Young people become homeless for several reasons, including family breakdown, leaving care, bereavement, poverty, and abuse at home. At Depaul UK we repeatedly see young people experiencing homelessness but hiding from society. They are usually living in temporary or unsafe accommodation.    

The young people we support rarely have a network to turn to for help. Nor do they have the life skills or vocabulary needed to reach out to ask for the right support. Many are embarrassed and ashamed of their situation.

Meera, 18, was forced to leave home after being abused at home: “I was staying at my friend’s shop. It’s a tuition centre. They weren’t using it, so they let me stay there. I was sleeping on the floor with a blanket. I think I was there for three weeks. I didn’t realise how much it affected me until now.”   

Hidden homelessness can leave some young people vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation.  

Finn, 25, moved to London on his own last year, but after being promised a place to stay he quickly realised that the accommodation wasn’t safe:  “My expectation was to find a room and find a job and make my life in London. Things didn’t exactly play out like that. I didn’t actually get a room. I got a cupboard under the stairs. The environment I was living in wasn’t a stable one. I eventually rigged up some chains, which made the door lockable.”   

How does homelessness affect young people?    

As homelessness takes many forms, the effects on young people can be varied Without adequate support, the impact on a young person’s physical and mental health can be catastrophic.    

Our research shows physical effects of living in temporary arrangements included fatigue due to poor and irregular sleep patterns, weight loss, and health issues connected to drugs and alcohol. And young people often said it made them feel ‘worthless’ or ‘pathetic.’     

Meera agreed: “I lost so much weight. I was ill a lot. With college, I was struggling to keep going because I was homeless, and it was on the other side of London. They were aware of the situation, but they weren’t helping me.”   

Mental health issues have been reported in over half (54.1%) of homeless young people. Among young people using our services, around 95% identify as needing help with their mental health.    

Finn added: “Initially, I thought I could handle it and I had it under control but then I didn’t have it under control and then everything started to fall apart- mentally and physically.    

How we help young people experiencing homelessness    

Every young person we meet is unique, and so is the support we offer them. We listen carefully to each young person’s story, build their trust, and help them plan to move forward. We provide emergency and long-term accommodation, mental health counselling, and help with accessing housing and financial support. We build life skills like cooking and money management, and we provide help with education, training, and job applications. We stay with them on their journey for as long as it takes.   

The recent increases in the cost of living mean many more young people are at risk of hidden homelessness. The demand for our basic services, such as emergency accommodation and mental health support, is growing, meaning our resources are stretched, but we will continue to support young people to ensure they are able to leave homelessness behind for good.    

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