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Young ‘hidden homeless’ left with nowhere to turn due to Covid restrictions

Charities have warned that some young people who had been sofa surfing or otherwise classed as hidden homeless with friends and family are now sleeping rough
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Vulnerable young people and the “hidden homeless” are being forced onto the streets as new regional lockdowns render sofa surfing illegal, frontline charities have warned. 

Young people are often referred to as the “hidden homeless” due to the large population staying on sofas and in shelters, but new Covid rules banning indoor mixing mean those with precarious living arrangements can no longer stay with friends or family. 

Daniel Dumoulin, head of rough sleeping services at charity Depaul, which focuses on young people at risk of homelessness, told the Big Issue that evidence points to new restrictions leading to more people sleeping rough. 

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“We have found that a higher proportion of young people accessing homelessness services across England have been sleeping rough,” he said. 

“This is partly explained by the fact that people who were previously sofa surfing can no longer do so. 

“Under the new three-tier system, sofa surfing with friends or acquaintances is illegal in many parts of the country.”

Dumoulin added that London was a particular hotspot for people under 25 sleeping rough, and called on national and local government to provide more support. 

After surveying hundreds of young people between the ages of 16 and 25, Depaul found that many had made use of “informal” living arrangements, such as staying with family or friends. 

The charity’s “Danger Zones and Stepping Stones” report, which was released in March 2018, found some had adopted “risky” strategies to secure accommodation that may have put their safety at risk. 

One in five young people said they had sheltered with people they didn’t know well, with 23 per cent having stayed with “friends of friends”.

“People are coming to our services and it’s getting harder to find housing for them,” Dumoulin added. 

“There are young people with nowhere else to go. They can’t stay with friends or family members so they end up sleeping rough.” 

Depaul will release a new report on November 4 looking at the issue of young people who fall out of stable accommodation and into temporary living arrangements. 

During the first national lockdown in March, councils were given £3.2 million to provide emergency shelter for homeless people under the Everyone In scheme, but the funding has now been scaled back.

Activists recently told the Big Issue that rough sleepers face a deadly double threat of cold weather and Covid-19 as “significant” numbers return to the streets.  

LGBTQ+ young people, in particular, had reported using informal living arrangements and staying with people they may only have a passing acquaintance with, according to 2018 research from Depaul.

Bex Shorunke, from the AKT charity, said Covid has had a “detrimental” effect on LGBTQ+ young people, with lockdown cultivating “an environment of fear and anxiety for young people trapped in homophobic, transphobic or unsafe environments”. 

Shorunke told the Big Issue: “The erosion of support networks and limited access to suitable accommodation options has meant that LGBTQ+ young people are not getting the help they need. We have seen a sharp rise in self-referrals from young people, particularly those aged 16 and 17-years-old in need of immediate support.

“This April footfall to our London services had risen by 107% compared with April last year.

“Not enough has been done to address the UK’s ‘hidden homeless’, wherein LGBTQ+ young people resort to sofa surfing and hook-up apps for shelter.

“In order to tackle the problem of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness properly, authorities need to work in collaboration with charities to better understand the needs and vulnerabilities of this group.”

The Big Issue is fighting the unemployment crisis through the Ride Out Recession Alliance, bringing together the most innovative ideas and experts to help keep people in work and in their homes during the recession. Get in touch with what you think can be done to support those in need by emailing rora@bigissue.com.

Image credit: Alex Rotlex/Pixy