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Senior Operations Lead Connel talks Housing First for Youth

05 July 2024

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Homelessness can affect anyone but at Simon Community we know that young people are increasingly vulnerable to it, especially those who are leaving care. Every year, 120 care leavers become homeless in Northern Ireland. And the impact of being homeless is profound.

The instability and uncertainty of not having a safe place to call home can hinder a young person’s ability to thrive and reach their full potential. To address this issue, our Housing First for Youth service offers a preventative solution by providing housing for young care leavers who are at increased risk of homelessness, and providing 24/7 support, for as long as they require it.

The Housing First model is globally recognised as one of the most successful approaches to ending homelessness. And it represents a shift in how we tackle it.

Traditional approaches often require the person who is experiencing homelessness to meet certain conditions before receiving access to a home. Housing First prioritises immediate access to housing, based upon the principle that housing is a human right for all, and upon the belief that having a stable home is a foundation which individuals can build (or rebuild) their lives. This model has proven to be highly effective for adults, and Simon Community's Housing First for Youth service tailors this approach to meet the unique needs of young people leaving care.

Young people experiencing homelessness face challenges that require specialised solutions. They are often at a critical developmental stage, where stability, support systems and involvement in education, training and employment, are lacking. Many young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness have experienced trauma, family conflict, relationship breakdown or systemic barriers like being a care leaver. Therefore, it is essential to provide housing but also sustained, comprehensive and individualised support that addresses these underlying issues.

Our Housing First service goes beyond providing a roof over a young person’s head. We work to ensure that each young person receives support tailored to their needs. This wraparound support includes access to education, employment and training opportunities; mental, physical health and harm-reduction services; recreational resources and practical living skills development. By building up connections and relationships for the young person within their community, we create an environment where they become active members of their community and increase their independence.

The young people themselves have told us the difference Housing First for Youth has made - their health and mental wellbeing has improved, they have made positive friendships in their neighbourhood, and risky or destructive behaviours, like alcohol and drug use, has reduced. They have all described the service as lifesaving.

‘Having 24 hours support is good - someone is always there; you can ring them at 3am when your head is melted, and you are scared’ Young Person

‘They know by my voice, and they come over here like Batman and Robin to save me’ Young Person

‘We work hard to make life safe for our young people’. Housing First for Youth Support Worker

We know young care leavers are a group who have already faced so much and are at increased risk of homelessness. Housing First for Youth shows that, with immediate access to housing coupled with the right support, even the most underserved and vulnerable young people can avoid homelessness and achieve their full potential.

"At Housing First 4 Youth we provide ‘stickability’. The young people supported by our staff team can rely on a highly flexible, tolerant and non-judgmental form of support. The young people are provided with wrap-around support that is available to them on a 24/7 basis – but crucially, they are also given the space to grow, to take risks, to make mistakes and learn from them. Our support is not time-limited, and is not bound to the property in which the young person lives. So if their living situation changes, the support they receive from us remains. This approach helps us to build trust and to secure positive, sustainable outcomes for young people as they develop the skills to thrive as active members of their communities."

Written by Connel McKenna, Senior Operations Lead, Housing First for Youth.