Down in the dumps with no help on hand as homeless young Scots condemned to ‘sub-class’

HOMELESS young Scots are being failed by a system which risks creating a “sub-class” without the skills to make their own way in the world, a damning report by MSPs has found.

Many 16- and 17-year-olds are left to fend for themselves in substandard accommodation after being declared “homeless” when they emerge from the care system or family breakdowns, the report says.

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The Scottish Government is now being urged to ensure ­vulnerable teenagers get support at this “crucial” time and that minimum standards for accommodation are enforced.

The report, published today by Holyrood’s equal opportunities committee, also highlights the “great concern” felt by MSPs that some local councils routinely handle the problem of 16-year-old care leavers “via the homelessness route”.

In effect, many are being dumped alone in poorly maintained flats without the means to build a new life.

Often they have to wait weeks or even months for community care grants, meant to help those on low income move out of residential care.

The committee wants this help to be made instantly available and wants government to scrutinise each council’s strategy on preventing youth homelessness to identify bad practice. It also wants schools to teach “life skills” such as budgeting as part of the national curriculum.

Committee convener Mary Fee said: “While we recognise that the Scottish Government and local authorities are working hard to prevent youth homelessness, we were very troubled to hear about 16-year-olds leaving care with a real lack of essential life skills, being put into utterly unacceptable, substandard accommodation and left isolated in an unsupported tenancy.

“The government must ensure more consistent preventative work is undertaken and life skills taught in schools, that minimum statutory standards for accommodation are met and that our most vulnerable young people are supported at such a crucial time in their lives.”

About 2,000 youngsters aged 16 and 17 were declared homeless across Scotland in 2011-12, with a further 9,800 between the ages of 18 and 24. The highest rates were in Clackmannanshire, West Dunbartonshire and Angus.

The report’s most stinging criticism was reserved for the “very poor” quality of accommodation young people found themselves placed in.

Yvette Hutcheson, who herself went through the homeless system and now works for Quarriers, said she was aware of many youngsters being ­given sub-standard accommodation. “They have moved in and found bags of rubbish or found that the toilet has been kicked out or taken out – for whatever reason it is just not there – and they are expected to be happy with that,” she said. “They are expected to think ‘the council is so good to me’ – but they do not have running water.”

She also highlighted the lack of educational opportunities.

“If they want to go out and make something of themselves by doing a part-time or ­full-time college course, the council will not pay for it,” she said. “There are so many barriers preventing young people from getting a better life for themselves.”

In evidence, Dr Paul Monaghan, of the Highland Homeless Trust, said: “Young people who are homeless typically have inadequate social skills and awareness of social norms. We are in danger of creating a sub-class of individuals who do not have the social skills to move forward.

“Inadequate problem-solving skills and an inadequate ability to manage anger are ­extremely common with a consequent inability to access ­further or higher education, employment or training.”

He added: “The availability of housing to young people is poor and is getting worse. The housing offered to them is typically of very poor quality.”

The committee is calling for the Scottish Government to put minimum legal standards in place to tackle the problem.

A government spokesman said tackling homelessness amongst people of all ages was a “key priority”. He added: “We are well aware of the devastating effect homelessness can have on young people just starting out in life.”

He said recent figures saw a fall in young people being made homeless and an overall reduction of 13 per cent. “But there is no complacency and we will consider the recommendations carefully,” he said.

Byron Carruthers

“I think that people leave care too young, usually when they are 16 or 17. It is impossible that people, even if they have lived with their mum and dad, would have the appropriate life skills at that age and the age limit for people going into homelessness should be 18.

“When I left care, I went straight into my own temporary accommodation, but I felt as if the care system had not taught me enough home skills or living skills for me to feel as if I had moved in. Folk are moving in with nothing. No wonder they go out and drink. It is a vicious circle that means they will be back in a hostel because they have nothing to look forward to when they are in their flat.”

Sharleen McLennan

“Before I became homeless, I had no idea just how difficult it would be. I left my mum‘s home through choice because I thought that I would get my own place and that things would be better because I would be independent and could do what I wanted when I wanted. But when my community care grant came through I was told a washing machine was not a necessity and they would not pay me a grant. That is very unfair because people are being put into a tenancy in a completely empty property.”

Yvette Hutcheson

“When someone is homeless, it is hard enough to get registered with a doctor, never mind find employment … in that position, they have no confidence in themselves and they do not have a set address. People coming through care do not have the greatest exam results, qualifications or life skills, but when someone is in that position, although they want a job, a house and a better life, they cannot go to college because they won’t get housing benefit.

“The council or whoever will happily pay housing benefit for someone to sit in a hostel all day, but if they want to go out and make something of themselves by doing a course, the council will not pay.”