Marcus Smith, Project Manager at RSPH, considers the impact of homelessness on public health and how a range of different initiatives are tackling it.
Winter is coming, and I was recently shocked to learn that more than 120,000 young people in Britain will be homeless or living in temporary accommodation this Christmas: that is the equivalent of four children in every school, according to housing and homelessness charity Shelter.
Recent interviews with struggling families reveal that homeless children are more likely to be in poor health and more likely to suffer mental health problems, due to anxiety, isolation from friends and struggling to sleep. More than 75% of these families felt that their accommodation was unsafe and did not offer the level of privacy needed for family life.
Many of the young and homeless are riding solo: Comfort (23) from London revealed in an online interview that when she was 17, her ‘home’ was sometimes on a night bus. She became homeless due to a family breakdown and described the bus as ‘safer than sleeping in a doorway’.
Luckily, Comfort was able to turn her live around with the help of friends and youth homeless charity Centrepoint, which annually supports more than 9,000 homeless 16-25 year olds into a home and a job. It wants to end youth homelessness and have hostels in London, Bradford and Sunderland.
Over 3,600 children will wake up homeless this Christmas in the West Midlands. One local YMCA leader said: “Locally we house 40 young people, while nationally 11,000 predominately homeless young people are in YMCA accommodation every night of the year, including on Christmas night”.
Many charities and groups believe that homelessness could be reduced if government and other organisations invested in more low-cost housing. They believe the root causes of the problem are soaring rent prices and simply not enough homes being built.
End Youth Homelessness is a new partnership of charities and businesses that have joined forces to raise awareness, gather support and influence government to make a change and eradicate youth homelessness in the UK. Watch its short film to find out more.
RSPH is aiming to train more disadvantaged young people to become Youth Health Champions. We have already trained 1,000s nationwide aged 14-24 in schools, colleges and different community settings, such as youth centres and housing associations. The programme provides knowledge and practical skills, harnessing young people’s energy and enthusiasm to be peer mentors for friends and family on risks to health and wellbeing, as well as how and where to find local services, such as temporary accommodation.
I have previously volunteered for small homelessness charity Caring at Christmas in my hometown of Bristol. It provides shelter over the festive season for people who are homeless or vulnerably housed. Why not find out who is caring at Christmas in your local area and get involved?
Whatever you do this festive period, I wish you a safe Christmas and happy new year!