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What is the extent of youth homelessness in the UK?

Thursday 20 January 2022
youg homeless girl sitting in sleeping back on street floor as people walk past.jpg

The facts and figures about youth homelessness may surprise you. Read on to find out more and what you can do to support

For many, the word ‘homeless’ conjures up an image of an adult rough sleeping on the streets. But children and young people across the UK are currently living without a place to call home.

How many young people in the UK are homeless?

In the UK, it’s estimated that over 100,000 children and young people are homeless. [1]

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.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a teenager and find yourself homeless. These young people we help have nowhere else to turn.

Simon Keys, who helps deliver Action for Children's work tackling youth homelessness

What are the main causes of youth homelessness?

Youth homelessness is a complicated issue. There are many pathways that can lead young people to homelessness:

Family breakdown

In 2021, eight in every ten of the young people supported by Action for Children’s youth homelessness project in Dorset, ‘Nightstop’, left home due to a family relationship breaking down. Nationwide, it’s one of the main causes of youth homelessness. There can be several issues that lead a family to this point, such as:

  • Parental conflict
  • Divorce
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Bereavement

Mental health problems

A lack of access to the appropriate mental health services or support can lead to a series of events that end with homelessness. Poor mental health can also be made worse by living without a home.

Compared to the general population, homeless people are more likely to report a mental health problem. Research suggests the same is true for homeless young people [2]. 85% of those referred to Nightstop note struggling with depression and anxiety.

Young teen girl sitting on the steps in the cold with eye contact

Isabella* was escaping a serious family breakdown, a suspected abusive relationship with her mother, when she came to Action for Children.

Suddenly finding yourself without a home is incredibly scary. We have had young people come to us where they’re fleeing domestic violence or family violence.

Maddy, Dorset Nightstop

Poverty

Poverty undoubtedly increases the risk of homelessness. Today in the UK, there are 3.9 million children living in poverty.

In many cases, homeless young people leave home because their families cannot afford to look after them. It's in this transition where young people are at increased risk of homelessness. The rise in costs of living, coupled with barriers to accessing the right social support or housing for young adults, makes it harder to find long-term accommodation.

Young people leaving care

Approximately, 100,000 young people age out of the care system each year in England [3]. These young care leavers are often left to set up their own homes alone. They go without the support networks or skills, such as money management, they need to thrive.

Centrepoint research has shown that 26% of care leavers have sofa surfed and 14% have slept rough [4].

Minority groups facing discrimination or disadvantage

Certain groups are more at risk of youth homelessness:

  • LGBT+ youth may become homeless due to non-acceptance from their family. It’s estimated that LGBT+ homeless youth make up 24% of all homeless young people [5].
  • Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic people are often overrepresented in homelessness statistics. This may be in part due to structural imbalances in society that also make them more likely to experience poverty and hardship.
  • Young asylum seekers and refugees sometimes find themselves without anywhere to go and end up on the streets.

What are the effects of youth homelessness?

Homelessness negatively impact the lives of young people, throwing up many challenges:

Loneliness and isolation

Homeless young people are often separated from their community – their friends and family. They’re left without the support young people need to guide and mentor them through life. Instead, they’re forced to become an ‘adult’, alone, overnight.

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 have to constantly be on the lookout.

Dan*

Young people are vulnerable and at risk

Many young homeless people tell us they’d rather stay awake all night and keep moving around til morning because it’s safer to sleep in the day.

It’s tiring and dangerous to be without accommodation. Homeless young people are more likely to:

  • Take part in illegal activities. One in six homeless young people take part in criminal activity for somewhere to stay. [6]
  • Abuse drugs and alcohol. Homelessness often compounds pre-existing substance misuse. It’s estimated that drugs users are seven times more likely to be homeless. [7]
  • Become a victim of violence and exploitation by others.

Disruption in education

Homeless young people lack the stability and support they need to succeed in school. They’re much more likely to be absent for long periods and fall behind. Their situation forces them out of education, even if they’d like to continue.

This can have lifelong consequences, as they may find it harder to find a job and earn a decent living.

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

The longer someone stays on the street, the greater the risk that they will be trapped without secure accommodation long term. Preventing a young person’s first night homeless is important.

Action for Children’s services for homeless children and young people aim to do just this. For example, in Dorset, our Nightstop service provides emergency accommodation to young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Our staff will then work with other services to provide a longer-term solution.

Thanks to the generosity of our volunteers who open their homes, we've kept over 900 vulnerable young people off the street.

How can you help prevent young people becoming homeless?

Volunteer with Dorset Nightstop

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

Every young person has the right to a home, warmth and food.
And you can help us achieve this.

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