Teenage wasteland

It has been almost a year since the Homelessness Act 2002 came
into effect, yet it appears to have made little difference to some
homeless people. This is despite its promises to transform the way
local authorities with housing responsibilities tackle

The act amended the responsibility of local housing authorities to
accommodate unintentionally homeless people in priority need by
replacing their previous two-year duty with an indefinite duty to
provide accommodation until settled housing is available.

The homelessness priority need categories were also extended to
cover five new client groups, including 16 and 17-year-olds. This
excludes, however, care leavers who are covered by the Children
(Leaving Care) Act 2000 and children in need covered by the
Children Act 1989.

But a lack of appropriate housing means many councils are
struggling to meet the requirement to give priority to 16 and
17-year-olds and consequently they are forced to place them in bed
and breakfast accommodation. Last month homelessness agencies
voiced their concerns about the welfare of young people being
placed in B&Bs without support (news, page 14, 12 June).

How do teenagers cope with living in a B&B? Ruth Coleman is
Hertsmere Homeless Project co-ordinator in Hertfordshire. “Being
homeless, even in a B&B, is desperate,” she says. “They feel
very isolated and get closed into a world of four walls.”

Hertsmere does not have emergency accommodation suitable for 16 and
17-year-olds, says Coleman. It has one hostel for young women, two
other hostels, a night shelter for over-18s and no B&Bs. A
nearby B&B, she adds, has refused to take under-18s after a
previous placement broke down.

B&B accommodation is often of poor quality and can be too far
from family and friends to maintain regular contact. On top of
this, being in a B&B is often the first time people of this age
have lived independently, which is why they need support, says
Clare Rowntree, homelessness charity Centrepoint’s national
development unit manager for the south. They may also have mental
health or substance misuse problems, exacerbated by their
homelessness, that require addressing, she adds.

But, local authorities often don’t have the necessary staff
available to support 16 and 17-year olds. And even when appropriate
support is available, actually getting it to them in B&Bs can
be problematic, says Rowntree: “I’ve heard from support workers who
won’t go and visit these young people because they feel the
environment is unsafe.”

Alexandra Sinclair is the leader of the Ricochet project in
Rotherham, operated by homelessness charity Shelter. The scheme,
which has been running for two years, offers advice to 16 to 25
years olds at risk of becoming, or who are homeless. Half of the
320 clients it saw from July 2002 to June 2003 were aged 16 and

She says it is often “the very chaotic” 16 and 17-year-olds who are
placed in B&Bs, a move some of them like because there they are
free to do what they want. But housing these clients without
support in this type of accommodation can be harmful as they can be
drawn into antisocial behaviour.

“It can be very dangerous for them because no risk assessment is
carried out and they do not know other residents. They can be
exposed to drugs and prostitution,” says Sinclair.

Hambleton Council, a small rural local authority in north
Yorkshire, is fortunate that its few B&B placements rarely
break down, says housing services manager Alan Glew. It currently
has three 16 and 17-years-olds in B&Bs, staying for an average
of six weeks, because it transferred all its housing stock to a
housing association 10 years ago.

“Some B&B placements operate almost like supported lodgings
because of the relationship we have established with the
proprietors,” he says. “This contributes to the young person’s
sense of well-being and security.”

In May, the government published a consultation document containing
national minimum standards for B&Bs. The standards aim to back
the government’s commitment to ending the use of B&Bs for
families with children by March 2004. How would councils respond if
a similar target was introduced for 16 and 17-year-olds?

Belinda Gallup, acting asylum seeker programme manager at Sheffield
Council, supports the idea: “No homeless vulnerable person should
be in a B&B. Local authorities are increasingly in a difficult
position and any target should be supported by additional

Coleman believes that if a target was introduced it would need to
be supported by more resources: “There has to be resources put in
to make sure the Homelessness Act is implanted properly.”

Local authority housing departments should admit that 16 and
17-year-old homeless young people are a specialist area, and should
develop local service agreements with agencies experienced at
working with them, she adds.

Nicola Robinson, a Shelter policy officer, believes the
government’s current review of B&Bs should improve the
situation, but isn’t convinced that a target is the answer. “Local
authorities may require a flexible approach. Those in rural areas
may have limited alternatives available.”

She would like to see multi-agency assessment panels – including
social services and housing – established to assess the
requirements of young people and provide for their housing

Glew, meanwhile, recommends professionals from all statutory and
voluntary services work proactively in a preventive role and raise
awareness of the local situation with young people “before a crisis
point is reached”.

‘I felt very alone, totally isolated’

Kai Carpenter is 17 and from Southampton. He left home a few
months ago because of a family breakdown and is sleeping rough in
central London. He was picked up by a contact and assessment team
worker from homelessness charity The Connection at St
Martin’s, which is near Trafalgar Square. The CAT worker
could only place him in a B&B hotel because none of the local
hostels had any space.

The B&B was like “a prison”, says Kai. His room
was very small, with a bed, a portable television and a fridge that
smelt. A cleaner visited daily but left the door unlocked and Kai
worried that his possessions would be stolen. He shared the toilet
and bathroom at the end of the corridor with the hotel’s nine
other residents.

He found it hard to sleep because his room was hot and he did
not feel safe. It was also noisy: “A guy would be shouting up
at my window at one in the morning ‘I’m going to get
you when you get out of there’.”

Kai says he felt “very alone, totally isolated” when
he was in the B&B because he had no support and did not meet
the other residents. He spent his time at the day centre for
homeless young people run by The Connection at St Martin’s.
He could buy cheap food there and obtain information about housing,
health and vocational courses.

After three days in the B&B, Kai moved back on to the
streets because he wanted some company. He says: “I would
never consider moving back into a B&B.” The Connection at
St Martin’s is now trying to find Kai a bed in an appropriate
hostel while he continues to sleep rough.

Despite his experiences, Kai is still optimistic. He wants to
get off the streets and be “just like other people” and
get an education
and a job.

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