By Laura Munt, Director of Prevention and Programmes at Depaul UK 

A huge amount of resource goes into tackling homelessness at the point of crisis. Last year, 136,000 young people presented at their local council because they had nowhere to sleep that night or were about to be made homeless. That’s the equivalent of one in every 52 young people in the UK. We know that emergency responses cost much more than preventative ones, so why don’t we invest more in prevention of homelessness?  

Family breakdown is the biggest cause of homelessness for the young people we see in our services, and last year it accounted for 63 percent of referrals to our emergency accommodation service, Nightstop.  

There are all kinds of reasons why families struggle to live together. Much of it is down to how families communicate with one another and how accepting they are of differences. We see a high number of young people who cite their sexuality, disability or a mental health problem as a reason for their homelessness. We also see young people who have suffered abuse, exploitation and neglect.    

Financial strain can exacerbate these issues at home. Families who struggle to make ends meet are facing additional pressures due to the high cost of living. These financial burdens can escalate existing tensions within families, contributing to homelessness among young people. 

Unstable housing situations can hinder young people’s ability to secure education and employment opportunities, perpetuating cycles of poverty and disadvantage.  

At Depaul UK, we take a preventative and holistic approach that recognises the complexity of the issue and strives to tackle it before it starts, or for those already affected, prevents it from happening again. 

  • Nightstop, our emergency accommodation service, provides young people with a chance to stop and take stock while staying in the home of a trained and vetted volunteer host. It gives them the space to access longer-term support to help keep them off the streets. 
  • When family relationships break down, Reconnect, our family mediation and support service, can help families to reconcile their differences and learn how to communicate better, while providing the support needed to create a stable household. Where reconciliation is not an option, we can help young people to develop the skills needed to form better relationships, helping them to secure a stronger support network in the future.    
  • Our housing advice service provides practical support for young people and adults facing housing issues, such as landlord disputes, accessing housing registries, and rent management. 
  • Our education and school workshops provide young people with the knowledge and resources to understand why homelessness happens and how to seek help if they need it. It also shows professionals how to identify young people experiencing homelessness and explains what to do about it. 

What’s incredibly special about the prevention services at Depaul UK is that we take a holistic approach so young people can access multiple different services that meet their unique needs. 

Through our education workshops, we’ve recently referred a student at risk of homelessness to our family mediation service. Our Reconnect mediators helped the family to better understand the young person’s autism diagnosis and its implications. Practical tips like wearing muted colours and sitting side-by-side during sessions improved communication. Now, the parents have a better understanding of the young person’s needs and the family is working together better. Through this support they were able to prevent homelessness. 

We also provide mental health support alongside supported accommodation and access to work, education and training services.  We tackle the issues associated with homelessness from all sides.  

But what we can do is only a drop in the ocean. We need systematic change to end homelessness. We are calling on the next government to commit to a Strategy to End Homelessness with a strong emphasis on prevention. This strategy would mandate better collaboration across government departments, such as health, justice, and education; ensure councils and local authorities have sufficient funding for prevention initiatives; and real investment in social housing that is safe, affordable and age appropriate. Finally, we also need policy changes to remove the benefits caps and provide fairer finances for young people. 

If charities and the government prioritised and invested more in prevention work, we could provide young people with the stability and opportunities they deserve and break the cycle of homelessness for good.