Homelessness in schools is a sizeable problem

Social work practice educator Helen Bonnick congratulates Quintin Kynaston School in London as it addresses homelessness among its students


Social work practice educator Helen Bonnick (pictured) congratulates Quintin Kynaston School in London as it addresses homelessness among its students

Between 2001 and 2004 I was involved in a project working to prevent teenage homelessness, entitled Safe in the City. In our particular area there were three secondary school workers and a fourth person based in the social inclusion team, linking with young people outside of mainstream education provision.

The intervention criteria were research-based indicators of vulnerability and were sufficiently broad as to encompass most of the population of a large inner-city comprehensive. In one week, one of the workers received 21 referrals from a particular member of staff; a trifle over-zealous perhaps, but it served to make a point.

The focus of work was early identification, but there were inevitably also young people, aged up to 16, on the verge of homelessness, when considerable negotiation and mediation was called for. Sometimes help was needed to access foyer accommodation. Many students were committed to continuing their education but were often thwarted by worries about where they would be sleeping that night, or whether it would be safe to return home.

I recall an overwhelming amount of paperwork, generated by the requirements of the school itself, the separate employer of the workers, and the need to demonstrate the benefits of the project itself to qualify for continued funding.

It does not surprise me that staff at Quinton Kynaston School have identified so many young people in need of support. Our project folded after three years, after funding ended. Some of the workers were kept on by their schools, though with a different funding stream and so a different focus. But students were enabled to remain safe and secure in appropriate accommodation as a result of the work that continued with their families.

The vision of Quinton Kynaston is a remarkable one. I wish them well with their project – and with their funding.

This article is published in the 19 May 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Keeping all students safe and at school”

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