Guest editor: Robbie Stakelum, FEANTSA Policy Officer
Homelessness is on the rise across the EU. It is so systemic in society that it is almost accepted as a social inevitability. We need to turn the tide. SDG1 obliges us to end homelessness by 2030. Investing in ending youth homelessness needs to be a European priority for the coming decade.
Youth homelessness is increasing, even in countries we often perceive to have robust social protection systems. In Denmark, youth homelessness has recently increased by 85%. Youth homelessness has many faces and many causes. We see many young people in state care, who transition to adulthood with no aftercare services, directly resulting in already vulnerable youth becoming homeless. In many urban areas, with over-subscribed and under-supplied housing, we are witnessing a generation of young professionals now branded the “housing poor” who spend a disproportionate part of their income on housing, and are at a real risk of homelessness. The LGBTI community is over-represented among homeless youth, where having experienced family rejection, lose their support network and community and become homeless.
Homelessness is an incredibly traumatic experience, and unfortunately it is marked by repetition throughout the life cycle, meaning that once you are homeless you are more likely to become homeless again in later life. A total end to homelessness requires an end to youth homelessness.
Earlier this week, the European Commission’s Annual Convention for Inclusive Growth focused on youth. Homeless youth were consistently raised an issue. The plenary heard of the life experiences of Martin Berthelsen, who told his story of becoming homeless, and the difficulties young people have in accessing social services. One thing was clear from the audience’s participation and reactions from the plenary: no young person should be left homeless in Europe in the 21st century. Maria João Rodrigues MEP, the European Parliament’s Rapporteur for the European Pillar of Social Rights, re-iterated the Parliament’s call for the recognition of the right to shelter and housing, as a key instrument to combating youth homelessness. But a broader question to be asked is what more can the EU do to prevent and end youth homelessness?
First off, empower the Youth Guarantee to deliver for vulnerable young people. The Commission’s flagship initiative is not delivering for vulnerable youth, those most removed from the labour market are not being supported by the Guarantee. We often hear the Commission speak of all-inclusive policies that help and support everyone. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If young people experiencing, or at risk of homelessness, are not set as a target group for the Guarantee, they will continue to be excluded, ignored and forgotten by policy makers. The Court of Auditor’ s estimates that 30% of NEETs are excluded by the Guarantee. Let’s stop talking about all supporting initiatives, and actually implement policies that support everyone, let’s start by enacting a framework for how homeless youth can be supported by the Youth Guarantee.
Secondly, recognise and prevent young people leaving state care and walking directly into homeless shelters. Too often vulnerable young people who are in the care of the state, “age-out” of state care. The transition to adulthood is already difficult. Losing your housing, social benefits and access to social, health, care and support services is a recipe for homelessness. However some countries, like Ireland, have invested in an aftercare guarantee, where young people are assisted with this transition out of state care and this has contributed to the prevention of youth homelessness. Commissioner Thyssen should invest in an after-care guarantee to encourage member states to set a basic social minimum, that would prevent vulnerable young people from becoming homeless.
These are only two examples of what the Commission can do to stem the rise of youth homelessness. We can and should do more to support the most vulnerable in our society. To find out more read the FEANTSA Roadmap for Homeless Youth.
Be fair, Europe. Stand up for Homeless People.