Guest editor: Teenage homelessness and missed opportunities

'Dave' (photo: JustUs)

The author of this article wants to remain anonymous, but you may not be surprised to know she first became homeless whilst at school (and no one picked up on it), and hopes that other kids are supported better than she was.

Missed opportunities 

It’s pretty much a given that every teacher knows basic safeguarding processes. They know what to look out for, they know which children are more at risk, they know how to recognise certain signs and, they know what to do with their concerns. Worth noting – they do it well. 

So, what about teenagers who are homeless? Now, this might not look like your stereotypical ‘homelessness’ (and that’s a whole other issue).

It might present in the form of sofa surfing, a 17-year-old, who hasn’t handed in their homework for a month as they’ve been ‘staying at a mates’.

It could be a 14-year-old who is having a sleepover at their aunt’s for the month, which then constantly extends when the reality is there is a whole extra family sleeping on airbeds because yes, they’re staying at their aunt’s, but because their family was illegally evicted and their local authority told them ‘go private and look in the papers’.

It could be a 16-year-old who has moved into a bedsit with their much older abusive partner; they’re legally homeless.

Annual safeguarding training

Now, no one is expecting teachers to suddenly know the ins and outs of homelessness law, but, it would be simple enough for teachers, as part of their annual safeguarding training, to have a section on Homelessness included.

The same way that there is a section on the different types of abuse, so why aren’t we including homelessness? 

In our local schools, teachers are told how to recognise potential radicalisation. In 2021, there were 24 arrests of under 18’s in relation to acts of terrorism.

In comparison, 2,920 of 16 and 17-year-olds were owed some sort of housing duty (this won’t cover those who approached and were turned away, or those who were housed through social services.)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach staff about the signs of children being radicalised, but I’d like to hear a justified reason why we aren’t teaching staff about homelessness?

Research proves how damaging any form of homelessness can be to a person, and there is also a strong correlation between adults who have rough slept for long periods of time, and childhood trauma.

Often, an adult who is experiencing homelessness, of any sort, will already have been homeless as a minor. It’s worth saying that one of the reasons teachers are often the people that children approach to disclose abuse to, is because they’re trusted by their pupils.

‘My shoes’ (photo: JustUs)

How amazing would it be if we added a layer of protection for our young people? 

For the real savvy ones of you reading this, the government have even produced a separate document on ‘Prevention of homelessness and provision of accommodation for 16 and 17-year-old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation’, so why isn’t this being used?

Why are we not doing better to recognise these issues? Why aren’t safeguarding heads equipped with the knowledge to fight for their student to social services? 

If we really wanted to stop homelessness, I think a good starting point would to be to stop the cycle before it begins.

Unfortunately, once you’ve been in the system, in a youth hostel, in un-secure accommodation, you’re much more likely to be kept in the system, and even sadder, the reason behind this constant traumatisation, humiliation, and often unlawful treatment of people, is money.

The systems, the charities in place to help people experiencing homelessness, make so much money it’s not worth it for them to actually try and stop homelessness.

This is a Guest Editor post submitted to the Bedford Independent by JustUs Homelessness Advocacy, a charity that advocates for those experiencing homelessness in Bedford.

Photos also submitted by the guest editor.

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