Youth homelessness: Q&A with Robert Aldridge

Homeless Action Scotland CEO Robert Aldridge talks to Scottish Housing News about the particular challenges faced by young people who are homeless.

One of your main areas of focus is to raise the profile of youth housing issues, are there particular homelessness challenges faced by young people?

Every young person leaves home, often more than once. Most do so successfully but some young people have to leave home without being able to plan. Homeless Action Scotland has been at the forefront of pioneering Leaving Home and Housing Education in schools, giving young people the tools and information to be able to avoid homelessness when possible.

Could housing associations/social landlords play a bigger role in tackling youth homelessness?

When things do go wrong young people find it hard to access housing. Thankfully in Scotland we have legislation which prevents social housing providers taking account of age in allocation policies, which gives young people a better chance than elsewhere in the UK. However they face the greatest difficulties in relation to welfare benefits.

What role, if any, can the private sector have?

Young people, if they use the private rented sector, are restricted to the Shared Accommodation Rate for rent which means most have to share with someone they may not know at a time when they are particularly vulnerable. They appear to be particularly liable to experience benefit sanctions, leaving them with few legitimate options to finance themselves. There is even talk of removing entitlement to benefits from those under 21 completely, which would spell disaster for many, leading to more rough sleeping and the exploitation, mental health problems and potential for drug addiction which accompanies street life.

Do you believe that homelessness is high enough on the political agenda and how do you think it can be made more of a priority?

Scotland has some of the most progressive homelessness policies in the world. The housing options approach has led to far more use of mediation services to help prevent and avoid homelessness and there are excellent examples of housing and support services for young people. Yet our annual Homelessness Survey shows there is still a great deal to be done. Too often young people who have been looked after end up homeless. Too often health services, social services and housing services are not joined up enough, and the transition from children’s to adult services is not managed well enough.

What would make your services more effective? Which one piece of policy would you change?

There are real opportunities in health and social care integration to improve this, and the new powers offered in the Smith commission report could be used to make the benefits system less punitive to vulnerable young people.

But ensuring that every young person receives basic education on leaving home and housing would in our view be the biggest contributor to the prevention and reduction in youth homelessness.

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