'Striking' number of youths in 'concealed homelessness'

A “striking” proportion of vulnerable young people are in “concealed homelessness” such as couch surfing, according to new research which also finds many opt to sleep rough rather than go into emergency accommodation.

The study, conducted by Paula Mayock and Sarah Parker from Trinity College Dublin, also said the private rented sector was not viable for young people who had experienced homelessness, arguing that other solutions need to be found.

The 40 young people, aged between 16 and 24 years, enlisted in the study between May 2013 and January 2014 all were either homeless or at risk of homelessness.

By Phase 2 of the research two years later, just seven of the 29 young people (24%) still involved had transitioned to housing while 22 (76%) either remained homeless or had entered into a living situation considered to be “insecure” or “inadequate”.

According to the study: “A majority continued to experience homelessness or housing exclusion, although not all of these young people reported constant or uninterrupted homelessness.

"Several had, in fact, exited homelessness temporarily over the course of the study — sometimes to the PRS [private rented sector] — but, for various reasons, were unable to maintain this accommodation and subsequently returned, often on more than one occasion, to homelessness services.

The extent to which young people entered into situations of concealed homelessness — that is, living temporarily with family members, friends and acquaintances or in a partner’s family home — is striking for the sample as a whole.

In addition, a considerable number were living in unfit or overcrowded conditions while many others were living in situations of hidden homelessness.

Living in emergency and short-term homeless hostels was perceived by young people as being associated with constant exposure to violence, victimisation, substance use and criminality.

The report said: “Young men, in particular, sometimes opted to sleep rough because they felt it was a better and safer alternative to hostel accommodation.”

The authors of the report said they wanted to underscore the dramatic increase in youth homelessness and “the multiple barriers to stable housing and the extent to which young people get ‘stuck’ in the service system”.

Many had multiple episodes of hidden homelessness, including periods spent “doubling up” or “sofa surfing”, not knowing when it would end.

The report said housing solutions that encourage speedy exits from homelessness were required, particularly to avoid young people entering “cycles of prolonged homelessness” with longer-term consequences.

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