Young struggle to get off the streets

A study shows young men are less likely than women to secure stable housing in the longer term, writes Noel Baker.

A NEW report shows young people who don’t make a quick exit from homelessness are more likely to end up long term on the streets.

A study tracking the experiences of a group of young people experiencing homelessness in Dublin over a six-year period also points to significant triggers, and states women are more likely to secure stable housing in the longer term.

Titled Housing Pathways and Young People’s Homeless and Housing Pathways, it began in 2004 and has tracked the progress of 35 cases of young people in Dublin who experienced homelessness over a six-year period up to mid-2010.

The study began with 40 people — 23 males and 17 females aged between 14 and 22 — and sought to track people’s homeless pathways. By the third wave interviews and information were available with 35 of the original group.

It found the early to mid-teenage years was the period of greatest risk for homelessness, and there were three broad routes “into” homelessness: A history of state care, family instability and family conflict, and problem behaviour and negative peer associations. Reports of physical abuse were common, with 45% claiming they had been hit by an adult including a parent.

By phase two, 13 people interviewed were still homeless, while by phase three, 15 of the 28 people interviewed had remained outside of homelessness and 13 were still homeless.

Of those who had exited homelessness, many were in private, rented housing, and women were more likely than men to have made the switch into stable housing.

The report states: “Compared to young people who sustained an exit from homelessness, the experiences of those who remained homeless signal strong barriers to housing stability, particularly as the duration of their homelessness increased. Of the 13 who remained homeless, 12 had been homeless at the time of their previous contact with the study (whether at Phase 2 or 3). The remaining young person was living in private rented accommodation at Phase 2, but subsequently returned to homelessness.

“These patterns are significant in that they point to early transitions out of homelessness as generally sustained and sustainable, and, conversely, to the absence of early exit routes as prolonging young people’s homeless ‘careers’.

“Five of the 13 who remained homeless had histories of state care and four reported a period spent in a children detention school. Six in total, all young men, had spent a period as children in either State care or detention.”

When it came to exiting homelessness, the report found it often involved a number of transitions, sometimes including family, but more often step-down housing, and occasionally a fall back into temporary or hidden homelessness. Changing relationships with family and getting away from a “homeless circle” of friends also seemed to help many to achieve stability.

“Of the 28 young people re-interviewed at Phase 3, just under half, or 13 young people (12 of them young men) remained homeless. In contrast to young people who had exited homelessness, their experiences signal strong barriers to housing stability, particularly as the duration of their homelessness progressed.”

The report states that an early exit from homelessness is crucial: “In contrast to young people who had exited homelessness, those who remained homeless at Phase 3 of the study did not move to stable accommodation at an early juncture; instead, they embarked on a cycle of repeated entry to emergency or short-term hostels targeting the under-18s.”

Some of those interviewed said they were concerned about being “dropped” from services at turning 18, while accessing hostels in the city centre typically heightened the risk of drug use, including heroin.

“All who remained homeless had transitioned to adult homelessness at the age of 18 years and most had spent the previous years commuting between hostels targeting the under-18s. By the time they entered adult homeless hostels, their journeys through homelessness were characterised by high levels of instability, with few having lived in one setting for more than a number of consecutive weeks or months.”

The report recommends speedy exits from homelessness, and claims the switch from youth to adult homeless services aged 18 can turn homelessness into a longer-term crisis, with the definition of “youth” being anyone under 18, whereas in the UK it involves people aged 24 and under.

The report also notes: “Access to stable, affordable accommodation emerged as the single most important determinant of successful and sustained exits from homelessness: those young people who moved to secure accommodation at an early juncture were likely to maintain this exit.”

Trust me… it’ll get to you mentally. Like, I never slept out without a blade at night or a steel bar, a chain, a glass bottle, some form of weapon… underneath me head, down me trousers, somewhere. Because you get people coming up, kicking you, hitting you, standing on you, eh, taking your cup off you and your bag, trying to set you on fire, trying to piss on you [Fergal, age 23]

Being homeless is shit. Walking around the streets, having nothing to do all day is shit. You should be up doing a course or something. Something. Sit out of the cold, you know what I mean… Just life at the moment for me is shit [Tony, age 28]


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