What are the effects of youth homelessness?

Tuesday 28 February 2023
Nightstop 2022

The effects of homelessness are different for every young person who experiences it. What they go through can have a lasting impact on their life and wellbeing.

Homelessness can affect every aspect of a young person’s life – their health, their relationships, even their future. Often the impacts are interlinked, making it even harder for young people to find a way out.

So what are some of the effects of youth homelessness?

Mental and physical wellbeing

Whether through lack of sleep, poor nutrition or not being able to access healthcare services, experiencing homelessness is bad for your physical health.

The exhausting experience of living without a home can also be damaging for a young person’s mental wellbeing. It can make existing conditions such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders worse. In one survey of homeless young people across England, almost three quarters reported that homelessness had had a negative impact on their mental health.

Loneliness and isolation

Being homeless can be incredibly lonely. A young homeless person may find themselves cut off from their friends and family for the first time in their lives.

Young people are not adults yet – they need guidance and support to make healthy choices. Yet young people experiencing homelessness are forced to become responsible for taking care of themselves without the guidance or resources they need to do so.

Violence and risky behaviour

With nowhere to go, many young homeless people tell us they’d rather stay awake all night and keep moving around until morning because it’s safer to sleep during the day. But the constant stress and exhaustion of being without a place to stay may make them more likely to take risks just to get a warm bed for the night.

One in six homeless young people take part in criminal activity for somewhere to stay. They are also more likely to become a victim of violence and exploitation by others. Some groups of young people are more likely to experience this. For example, LGBT+ youth are more likely to be the targets of violence and sexual exploitation than non-LGBT+ homeless young people. In addition, one report has found that 1 in 5 young women experienced sexual assault once or more while they were homeless.

Young people experiencing homelessness may also abuse drugs and alcohol. Being homeless often compounds pre-existing substance misuse, which can make it harder to escape homelessness – a vicious cycle. It’s estimated that drugs users are seven times more likely to be homeless.

These experiences can have a huge impact on a young person’s mental and emotional wellbeing and affect their chances in life.

Disrupted education

Homelessness can prevent young people from being able to concentrate in class or attend school at all. Young people experiencing homelessness are much more likely to be absent for long periods and fall behind. It can also affect how they relate to their school mates, intensifying their feelings of isolation.

The average age of young people we support through our Dorset Nightstop service is 17 or 18, so most of them haven’t finished school when they come to us for help. With so many other things to worry about, their situation can force them out of education, even if they’d like to continue.

Homeless teenager in a sleeping bag preparing to sleep on the street.jpg

After being made homeless, Dan* spent endless nights sleeping in a skatepark.

When you’re on the streets, you don’t sleep. If you drop off, [you] immediately wake up all the time to check that you and your belongings are still safe. You constantly have to be on the lookout.


Getting and keeping a job

Many jobs demand a permanent home address before they’ll hire someone – which can make it almost impossible for young homeless people to break the cycle of homelessness.

Even if they find somewhere to live, a disrupted or incomplete education can impact the kind of jobs they can get. If the young person engaged in illegal behaviour while homeless, this can also limit their opportunities.

We see young people doing all the right things. They’re working and paying their own way but it’s still hard for them. One person called Frances* had a job and was saving up for private accommodation, but as she was moving around so much they were often late, so they lost their job.

Simon, Volunteer Coordinator at Dorset Nightstop, which provides emergency accommodation to young people at risk of homelessness

It’s crucial to prevent the first night on the street

The effects of youth homelessness demonstrate why it is often a vicious cycle that can make it very tough for young people to find a way out or move on with their lives.

The longer someone stays on the street, the greater the risk that they will be trapped without secure accommodation long-term. We also know that if someone experiences homelessness at a young age they are more likely to experience it again later in life.

This is why preventing a young person’s first night homeless is so important.

Nightstop - a safe, warm place to stay

Homelessness doesn't stop for Christmas. Hundreds of children and young people will go without a safe place to sleep or a hot Christmas dinner. At a time when families are celebrating, others are struggling.

Our Nightstop service in Dorset provides emergency accommodation to young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Our amazing volunteer hosts have offered a safe night’s sleep to over 900 vulnerable young people, while our staff work with other services to provide a longer-term solution.

These young people have nowhere to turn. We are their last hope to get back on their feet. We help in an emergency – a bed, a meal, someone to talk to – and that one small act of kindness can help turn their lives around.

Kelvin and Heather, volunteer hosts for Dorset Nightstop

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What is the extent of youth homelessness in the UK?

In the UK, it’s estimated that over 120,000 children and young people are homeless.

The true number is likely to be even higher. Homelessness is difficult to measure, and official figures don't include everyone. There are the ‘hidden homeless’, who are getting by in informal arrangements. These young people sofa surf, sleep on floors or stay with friends and strangers.

Find out more and what you can do to support.

*Names changed to protect identity.

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