`Vulnerable young' are forced out of homes

Life on the streets: Charity fears new Housing Bill will worsen plight of the under-25s
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More than eight out of ten young people who leave home are forced out due to factors such as abuse and family breakdown, according to Centrepoint, the charity for the homeless.

Unlike in the Eighties when people left home voluntarily to find work, the first nationwide picture of homeless young people in 1996 is one of "highly vulnerable, very young people struggling actively to overcome hardships", according to the survey, which questioned more than 7,500 people, over 5,000 of which were under the age of 25.

The charity fears that the new Housing Bill - which is passing through the committee stage and proposes removing local authorities' duty to provide permanent housing for the "statutory homeless" - will make the situation even worse.

"Changes to Government policy look set to worsen youth homelessness," Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Centrepoint, said.

"Proposed restrictions on housing benefit will leave more young people at risk. Efforts to help young homeless people continue to be hampered by the confusion of housing and social services using different legislation. And the Housing Bill is proving so far to be a missed opportunity to make housing legislation and the Children Act work coherently to protect young people at risk."

In 1987 "pull" factors, such as moving to find work or needing to establish their independence, were given as reasons for leaving home by more than half those surveyed. By 1994-95 only 14 per cent cited such factors. The report, The New Picture of Youth Homelessness in Britain, says the problem is not just limited to London anymore, but is a national issue.

The study looked at six centres around the country and found that nearly 3,000 young people were monitored in Dorset, in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and Purbeck. Similarly, the Simon Community in Northern Ireland saw 2,044.

Nearly four out of ten people arriving at Centrepoint - which caters for those between 16 and 25 - were17 years or younger and 48 per cent were either black or from ethnic minorities. This compares with a a 5.5 per cent overall proportion of the population belonging to ethnic minorities.

While three-quarters were actively seeking employment, only about 1 in 20 had any sort of work, although 61 per cent had gained some kind of qualification. More than four in ten had no income whatsoever on arriving at Centrepoint.

Large numbers of young and vulnerable people were still found to be sleeping rough before they make their way to a hostel. One-third reported living that way before going to Centrepoint.

Many young people may find it difficult to be accepted as officially homeless because they have to be proved "vulnerable", the report said, and social services operate different criteria to assess vulnerability.

Centrepoint also says that measures in the last Budget restricting housing benefit to under-25s to the local average "single room rent" will limit the already restricted choice of private-sector accommodation available. Its report calls for housing benefit for young people to be the same for those over 25, and for a national strategy to tackle youth homelessness.