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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

'Youth homelessness is everybody's business.'


Tamsin Stirling explores youth homelessness in Wales and lessons from approaches which have tackled it.

As I walk around Cardiff, the city where I live, I am particularly concerned to see more young people on the streets. As residents of Cardiff, we are told by the council that there is no need for anyone to sleep rough as there are enough spaces in hostels. We are also told that we shouldn’t give money or buy food for anyone on the streets and that this can actually make things worse. So what should citizens of Cardiff who are concerned about homelessness do?

A new way of donating, Give Differently, has been established, with a donation point on The Hayes and the ability to give by text. The campaign is funded by For Cardiff (the Business Improvement District) and the money is managed by the Community Foundation for Wales. Organisations working with homeless people will be able to apply for grants on behalf of individuals to help them move on with their lives. It will be interesting to see how this develops. But what about people who want to do more than give money?

Last year, I was lucky to be awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travel fellowship to visit California and Canada to look at community and business engagement in tackling youth homelessness. I wanted to see how people, communities and businesses were encouraged and supported to become involved in a context where the safety nets which we are used to working with, (as imperfect as they are), are not in place.

I found more examples of business engagement in youth homelessness than I had anticipated and fewer examples of community engagement. The examples I found ranged from the small to the strategic, from individual to co-ordinated, from youth homelessness specific to those that sought to tackle wider homelessness/housing issues. And many went beyond giving money. I’ll mention just a couple of examples here which are focused on system change:

The Everyone In campaign in Los Angeles has come on the back of two successful referenda to increase property and sales taxes to fund supportive housing and support services to enable people to move off the streets, increase the amount of affordable housing and provide housing subsidies to individuals. The campaign is described as ‘more than fighting for supportive housing – it’s about changing the perception of homelessness and treating those that are displaced as fellow community members. This problem affects us all …… ‘. The goal of the campaign is to end homelessness across Los Angeles and citizens are being given a range of options for getting involved including being trained to advocate for new housing and services for homeless people in their neighbourhoods.

The Catherine Donnelly Foundation states that it ‘wishes to advance systems-change and lasting solutions in Canada's housing sector.’ It has moved from funding good individual projects to working long-term in partnership with others to prevent and eradicate youth homelessness. The Foundation has invested in youth homelessness over a 10 year period. Part of this is jointly funding, along with a number of other foundations, the post of Director of Policy and Planning at A Way Home Canada, a national coalition focused on ending youth homelessness. The Catherine Donnelly Foundation has also played a critical co-ordination role, bringing together a range of funders to maximise the impact of their engagement in the work of A Way Home Canada and its members.

Based on what I learnt during my fellowship, I am developing typologies of engagement which I hope will be useful in opening up the debate about how businesses, communities and individuals can get involved in tackling, and ultimately ending, youth homelessness. My view is that finding effective ways to make youth homelessness everybody’s business is vital if we are to make ending youth homelessness in Wales a reality.

Tamsin Stirling is a housing researcher with 27 years in housing practice, policy and research.

  • Tamsin is speaking at TAI 2018 - click here for more information

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