The research project on ‘Combating social exclusion among young homeless populations’ (CSEYHP) investigated the routes to homelessness of 216 young men and women of diverse origin and ethnicity in four Member States (the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Portugal). The research was ground-breaking and participative since many of the co-researchers who undertook the survey understood the issues from within, having experienced homelessness themselves.
The project raises the visibility of the problems confronted by young homeless people in the four partner countries, while also focusing on the positive possible outcomes of using early intervention models. Active prevention is key, as well as intervention at a very early age, when family problems are already becoming apparent. A range of policies in different countries have an impact on youth homelessness. Homelessness is triggered by family problems in the first place, and is rarely caused by structural factors alone, like poverty.
Key institutional agents such as education, justice and social services need to establish an effective partnership in support of young people at risk of homelessness in EU Member States. In order to prevent their social exclusion and help them to become independent members of society, engagement with trusted adults such as teachers, social workers, youth workers, health professionals, police and employers is particularly important for young people with family problems, They can support these young people by encouraging them to invest in their education, or assisting them in school or other informal learning environments.
Homelessness differs between the four countries studied. In the Netherlands, the UK and Portugal, although over half of the young people surveyed had no permanent home, they rarely had nowhere to stay, and lived either temporarily with friends and family or in social services accommodation. However, in the Czech Republic, 88% of those surveyed were living on the streets or in squats.
Poor education levels were found to be a major factor affecting young homeless people, although there were significant variations in their educational and employment situations. Young people in care or those with special educational needs are especially vulnerable groups. The average proportion of people leaving school early (before the age of 16) is 15% in Europe, but this level was found to reach 22% among the young homeless people in the sample.
A majority (70%) of the CSEYHP sample were at levels 0-2 educationally:
- 4% had not completed primary school (level 0).
- 18% had only completed the first stage of secondary school (level 1).
- 48% had completed level 2 (age 16).
Only 4% of the people surveyed had higher education (HE) qualifications (or qualifications to allow them to enter HE), compared with 30% in the EU as a whole.
Young homeless people were found to be seriously lacking in social capital, such as family support (e.g. also from grandparents). In some cases, family support was constrained by problems in the lives of parents, such as mental health issues, drugs or alcohol dependency issues, or the premature death of a parent. But people who maintained family contacts were not necessarily happier, if family obligations took precedence over young people’s educational opportunities.
Overall, 26% of the sample had lived in care, and an additional 27% had received intervention from social services. 28% were single parents. Many of these were young mothers, dependent on state support and this was likely to mean inherited vulnerability for their children. 25% of the young men in the sample were fathers, though not all of these were taking parental responsibility. Intervention programmes like the Dutch Eight-Steps Model1 (ESM) should include parenthood as one of the life stages at which young people may need support.
Around half of respondents reported that having someone to talk to, such as a key worker, was crucial - in extreme cases it had kept them alive. However, the researchers believe that the solution cannot be found in improving social services alone. For example, countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic have to create new support structures aimed specifically at young people so that the pre-conditions exist for improvements at an institutional level.
Key recommendations from the research were:
In order to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage and prevent the build up of the risk of social exclusion, there is a need for financial support and family mediation, and early support or intervention for families that are not functioning adequately.
National and local levels should reinforce the guidelines in the EU Strategy for Youth2 that call for the mobilisation of all actors in the life of young people (parents, teachers, social workers, health professionals, youth workers, police and justice, employers, and young people themselves) to prevent social exclusion.
There is a need for joined-up policy for investing in and empowering youth, to enable young people to become independent from social services. Often, social support key workers lacked time and money to organise a coordinated approach and ongoing guidance for young clients, and the current situation is aggravated by the global economic crisis and likely future austerity measures.
Policy interventions should build on the substantial resilience of these young people, but also take into account that they may have accumulated delays in their individual (educational, social) life paths. Therefore, standard age limits (for education, adulthood, social support, independent living etc.) may be inappropriate or counterproductive for homeless young people.
Levels and risks of social exclusion differ in the four Member States studied. In Portugal and the Czech Republic, measures are needed at structural and institutional levels as well as at individual and relational levels. In the UK and Netherlands there is a need for more cooperation between services.
Services must be designed to address the challenges attached to multiple life transition moments in young people’s lives, from leaving education to living independently. The project has drafted dedicated policy briefs on intergenerational solidarity, education, and social inclusion policies.
Examples of successful programmes are the Dutch Eight-Steps Model (ESM), which deals with housing, finances, social and psychological functioning, purpose, physical and practical functioning and daily activities, and the UK's Early Intervention Model, which includes three local linked services providing personal development, employment and education development, and family support to prevent exclusion and encourage reinsertion.
Longitudinal research on pathways to homelessness and social exclusion would shed further light on this subject and offer deeper insights on the impacts and methodologies of direct/early intervention.
1 See: http://www.movisie.nl/onderwerpen/homelessyouth/docs/Toolkit_8steps.pdf
2 EU Youth Strategy (2010–2018) says that “The social exclusion and poverty of young people and the transmission of such problems between generations should be prevented.”
CSEYHP – Combating social exclusion among young homeless populations (duration: 1/5/2008 – 30/4/2011). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 3 “Major trends in society and their implications”, Research area 3.2 “Societal trends and lifestyles”. Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).
Contact: Thea Meinema, email@example.com