(Published in the Edinburgh Evening News, Monday 17th August. 2015)
Imagine being 17 years old and think about what it would be like to have to move from place to place “sofa surfing” or having to sleep rough – out in the wet without even the price of a cup of tea to warm you up. People become homeless for a wide range of reasons, a great many of which are not their fault. Young people under the age of 25 are a particularly vulnerable group.
There are three main routes “into” homelessness for young people – a history of care, family instability/ conflict, and problem behaviour. Sadly, reports of both physical and emotional abuse are common. Studies show that young men aged under 25 are less likely than women to secure stable housing in the longer term and young people who don’t make a quick exit from homelessness are more likely to end up long-term on the streets.
Four Square (Scotland), an Edinburgh charity, has been providing services for vulnerable people in Edinburgh for over 36 years working across the age groups, and our work is varied. The four key areas in which we work are:
1. Accommodation and support – two hostels (22 beds); one female-only and 18 training flats for young people.
2. Advice and Advocacy – Visiting Support Service in the west of the city and advice services in the community and the courts. We also have a team in Edinburgh Prison
3. Learning and Employability – Delivering SQA-accredited courses to unemployed people across the age ranges and including in our hostels.
4. Enterprise and Sustainability – two EFI (furniture superstores) providing placements and volunteering opportunities.
Four Square’s aim is to give all homeless, disadvantaged people hope by transforming lives and communities. We do this by providing services that create opportunities. For the young people of Edinburgh it is being able to stay somewhere safe – a safe haven for 40 16-25 year olds every day/night of the year in our accommodation services.
But simply giving them a roof over their heads is not enough. We need to give them the skills to learn how to fend for themselves, budgeting, cooking and the chance to learn new skills and get into work or education.
There needs to be access to stable, affordable accommodation as this is the single most important element of successful exits from homelessness. The young people who have entered our services and who have moved from our hostels into a training flat and beyond to permanent housing have managed to maintain this exit.
However, we know there are still young people in B&Bs or on the streets and Four Square demonstrates what can be achieved when the whole package is in place. So next time you see a young person begging think about how they may be feeling/struggling and why they are there.
Heather Arni is chief executive of homelessness charity Foursquare