ON FRIDAY, 4 October over 150 industry leaders from Scotland’s IT and tech sector will take part in Action for Children Scotland’s annual Byte Night Scotland event, sleeping rough in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, to raise funds for the six youth homelessness services we run across the country.
This will be a real challenge; previous years were blighted by rain so heavy it was impossible for our “sleepers” to actually get any sleep. But it’s all good fun and after a night braving the elements, participants can happily return to their own homes where warm beds, full fridges and loving families await.
The sad reality is that there are young people living in this country today for whom this simply is not the case. In the past year, nearly 10,000 young people aged between 16-24 years made homelessness applications in Scotland; and our staff report children as young as 14 seeking advice on housing. We see firsthand the devastating long-term effects homelessness can have on personal and social wellbeing – making it difficult for young people to get a good education and find employment, and having a lasting impact on their self-worth. Since it launched in 2008, Byte Night Scotland has raised over £300,000 in aid of youth homelessness, vital funding that has helped us to develop and run a range of innovative services that keep young people in challenging situations off the streets.
We strive to give them the tools to transform their lives, and we are very grateful to all those who will “sleep rough” this year so that we can continue to run these services.
Prevention is better than cure and we offer early intervention services to tackle problems before they escalate to crises, stopping young people from becoming another homelessness statistic.
It may be hard to understand, but in some cases relationships within families become so strained that parents and their children feel they can no longer live together. In fact, family breakdown is the main reason for youth homelessness, and we offer conflict resolution programmes to help keep families together.
We also aim to help young people make informed decisions about their future and understand homelessness isn’t the only option.
This is something our Youth Housing Options service, recently launched in partnership with Dundee City Council, does to great effect. Since February, just seven of the 37 young people we have supported through this service have made homeless applications.
The vast majority instead found alternative solutions that will be more beneficial in the long-term – engaging in conflict resolution, staying with a member of their extended family or moving into student accommodation.
Where it is safe to do so, young people should stay within the family home until they are ready to leave. When young people really do need to move on, they must have somewhere safe and secure to move to. But this isn’t always possible and, in addition to preventative services, we also work with young people who have no choice but to set up on their own, helping them rebuild their lives and fulfil their potential.
Our emergency accommodation offers private bedrooms and shared kitchens and bathrooms (with our staff on hand 24 hours a day) to young people who find themselves with nowhere else to go. Although this is a supported environment, young people are expected to be self-sufficient. They cook their own meals and clean up after themselves, and our staff help them plan for the future.
For some young people, our emergency accommodation provides a place to stay while they wait for their first tenancy. Those as young as 16 can suddenly find themselves living alone, with very little or no support from family. Running a household isn’t easy at any age and for that reason we also offer advice and workshops on budgeting, personal wellbeing, cooking and employability skills. This encourages young people to be considerate neighbours and enables them to maintain their tenancies.
Youth homelessness is a serious and complex issue, but it is one that Action for Children Scotland is committed to tackling. We strongly believe each and every young person in the country should have a place to call home, and we are very grateful to everyone taking part in this year’s Byte Night Scotland for losing sleep for such a good cause.
• Carol Iddon is director of children’s services, Action for Children Scotland, www.actionforchildren.org.uk