Why Are So Many U.K. Millennials Sleeping Rough?

Why Are So Many U.K. Millennials Sleeping Rough?

Why you should care

Because millennials are roughing it way more than you think.

We hear a lot about millennials and how rough they’ve got it. Mostly, though, the talk is of a daunting economy or the need to crash in Mom’s basement until the right job — any job — comes through. Turns out there’s a whole other problem for millennials in the U.K.

17 percent of Brits ages 16 to 25 have slept on the streets over the past year.

And 10 percent of them have done so sleeping rough, that is in unsafe places like cars, for more than one night. Overall, 26 percent of them report having been homeless at some point in their young lives. “It was much, much higher than we expected,” says Anna Clarke, senior research associate at the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, which conducted a nationwide survey for Centrepoint, the U.K.’s leading charity for homeless young people. But what’s even more staggering is the fact that official figures don’t begin to account for homelessness among this increasingly vulnerable group, according to Jennifer Barnes, head of policy and research at Centrepoint. The government figures unfortunately don’t break down by age, she says. “They’re just a big snapshot count of one night.”

For those, teams conduct less-than-scientific street tallies, simply counting bodies spotted on benches, in car parks and along sidewalks. Last year’s count, for example, estimated that there were 2,744 “rough sleepers” (all ages) on one night in England. But they can count only the ones they find, and many homeless remain hidden in a bid to stay safe. Local authorities, meanwhile, register only those they’re obliged to help — youths, the disabled, vulnerable young people and families — which means that healthy over-18s without children can fall through the net. And the outreach data for London suggests that the number of young people sleeping rough has significantly increased over the last few years, Barnes says.

As in Britain, global homeless rates for young adults are far from comprehensive, but it’s a growing problem. Emergency services in Northern France, for example, report that most of the calls they receive these days are from this new demographic. And in the U.S., the number of homeless in their twenties has been growing each of the past five years, now representing 25 percent of the overall adult homeless rate. Because local authorities are responsible for the care of their homeless, there’s little centralized organization. “In many ways, the government is policymaking in the dark, because they don’t know the scale of the problem that they’re dealing with,” which has resulted in massive cuts for homelessness funding in recent years, Barnes says.

A few factors have converged to put this group at risk, including relationship breakdowns with families, often fueled by financial pressures, family benefit cuts, soaring rents — average British rent prices were 12.5 percent higher last May, compared with 2014 — and high youth unemployment (13.6-16.2 percent among 16- to 24-year-old Brits in the last couple of years). Most of the young homeless are ineligible for state support, and many don’t reach out to the shelters that are in place because “they don’t always feel safe going into all-age shelters,” Barnes says.

Centrepoint, unsurprisingly, recommends a government push for more accurate accounting, policy reversals that have seen funds dry up and more affordable housing and age-specific services for those who find themselves on the streets. Shocked by the numbers, Clarke and Barnes hope their work can spread awareness of the fact that Britain’s young adults are far from … as safe as houses.

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