28 April 2016, The Tablet

‘New approach necessary’ to understanding homelessness

Catholic youth homelessness charity, Depaul International, has called for a national debate on “hidden homelessness”, demanding that the issue be taken far more seriously than it is now.

Its report “Danger Zones and Stepping Stones”, launched in parliament last week, recounts the stories of 18 young people who have experienced danger while living in temporary accommodation.

“These experiences are often termed ‘sofa surfing’, a phrase which does not adequately capture the high levels of risk young people are experiencing,” explained Depaul’s UK president, the former ITN newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald. Hidden homelessness, he added, is “the invisible iceberg of which rough sleepers form the tip”.

“This vital report is just the beginning: Depaul UK is making clear recommendations aimed at preventing young people from enduring these experiences and is calling for a national debate on hidden homelessness,” he said.
Homelessness Minister Marcus Jones MP said, in an address at the launch, that the report made an important contribution to government understanding of the “highly complex causes of youth homelessness”. “Our priority is to support young people at risk and we are committed to work with the sector to prevent young people  becoming homeless,” he added.

Labour MP Kate Hoey, who co-hosted the event, said she was adding her voice to the call for a national debate on the issue.

Chief executive for Depaul UK, Martin Houghton-Brown, said: “Our report shows that one size does not fit all when helping young people who find themselves without a place to call home … No young person should have to stay in an unsafe place.” The report includes recommendations that policymakers ensure there is adequate emergency accommodation for young people.

Other charities and local authorities are calling for changes to the law to support the growing numbers of people on the brink of homelessness, including the thousands of “sofa surfers” who are currently denied official help. Representatives from Crisis, Shelter, local councils and the National Housing Federation called for a “prevention duty” that would oblige councils to support anyone at risk of homelessness.

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