Homeless youth: numbers, causes and Housing First as an answer

In most of Europe, 18-29 year old boys and girls account for 20-30% of homeless people. What are the causes that lead young people to find themselves in this condition? The intervention model “Housing First for Youth” seems to be an effective response which is increasingly being adopted by European countries!

How many homeless young people are there in Europe?

In the years following the global economic crisis, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, i homeless youth have increased: in most of Europe, boys and girls between 18 and 29 represent 20-30% of homeless people. Both researchers and practitioners have highlighted the need to develop targeted policies so that young people living in situations of risk do not become homeless.

The causes: structural factors, system failures and individual and relational factors

Le causes of this phenomenon involve a complex set of interconnected factors, often operating cumulatively in a young person's life. Using a socio-ecological model, we could divide the factors into three domains:

  •  structural factors, i.e. broad systemic, economic and social issues that influence people's social environment, opportunities and outcomes. These factors include the lack of affordable housing, child poverty, discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sexual orientation and ethnicity, violence and intergenerational traumas experienced by refugees and asylum seekers.

  • system failures, which refer to situations where inadequate policy and service provision within and across systems contribute to a young person's likelihood of experiencing homelessness. These include, for example, all situations in which there is no structured support for all young people leaving reception facilities for minors or juvenile prisons.

  • individual and relational factors, including “adverse life experiences (ACE's)”.

Housing First for young people (HF4Y) as an answer

 How to deal with the phenomenon? First, you need to keep in mind that one's needs homeless young man are different from those of a homeless adult and that it is not possible to homogenize the needs of young people: a 14 year old has different needs from a 20 year old! One of the answers designed to ensure adequate and safe support for young people, based on their cognitive, social and physical development is theHousing First for young people (HF4Y). This model was born in Canada in 2009 with the contribution of the Canadian organization At Home/Chez Soi and developed starting from the principles of Housing First for adults which, however, were inadequate to reach and work on the needs of young people.

THEHF4Y it is an intervention aimed at boys and girls aged 13 to 29 who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The purpose of the model is to provide immediate access to housing and educational support aimed at physical and mental health, life skills enhancement, social inclusion, school attendance and job search. What is important to underline is that the model does not simply provide housing stability, but supports and facilitates the young person in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. The operator, therefore, becomes an adult of reference who accompanies the young person in the structuring of his own identity.

The principles of Housing First for young people

I 5 principles ofHF4Y:

1. Right to housing without prerequisites. The right to housing is separate from educational support, so young people are not required to accept support as a condition of obtaining or maintaining housing. This means that when the educational support ends, young people do not have to leave their accommodation. Furthermore, if someone loses their housing, they are not expelled from the scheme but rather are supported in finding another one.

2. Choice of young people, voice of young people and self-determination. The young person must be involved in the planning and evaluation of his path and have the opportunity to give feedback to the operators. The young person must be put in a position to make conscious decisions, and consequently be informed of the pros and cons of each choice. He should be supported in his choices so that he can learn from his mistakes.

3. Positive youth development and well-being orientation. The intervention must not be oriented only on the vulnerabilities of the young person but also on his/her strengths.

4. Individualized support managed by the young person without time limits. Educational support must be guaranteed for as long as necessary for the young person and the nature of the same must adapt to the needs of the young person which may change over time.

5. Social inclusion and integration into the community. Operators will have to help the young person to explore their hobbies and personal interests and to create a network of friends and professionals that he can use if he needs support.

Participation in the study session organized by FEANTSA Youth and the Housing First Europe Hub

As an association we took part in October 2022 in the study sessions “Youth work to make Housing First for Youth…Work!”, held in Budapest, organized by FEANTSA Youth and by 'Housing First Europe Hub and funded by the Council of Europe, which was attended by 32 young people from Portugal, Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Albania, Greece, Lithuania and Canada. Participation in this training gave us the opportunity to:

  •  understand the phenomenon of youth homelessness;
  •  explore the modelHousing first for Youth” and understand the differences between young people and homeless adults;
  • exchange good practices with European colleagues already working in the services of HF4Y
  • participate in workshops focused on various topics, such as Family natural support, harm reduction, Trauma informed care, the Upstrem project and the Strength based model;
  •  practice advocacy on the basis of the different interlocutors we may be dealing with
  • how and why to build a coalition;
  • how to bringHF4Y in its local reality.

Thanks to the network created and supported by FEANTSA Youth we will continue to stay up to date on the various issues and challenges that the projects face HF4Y present.

Gaetz, Stephen. (2019). THIS is Housing First for Youth: Europe. A Program Model Guide. Toronto:
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press
European Framework for Defining Youth Homelessness (FEANTSA, 2020)
Homeless Rights are human rights (FEANTSA youth, 2019)
Housing First Europe Hubs: www.housingfirsteurope.eu


Purple Markers

* Notes on the author: Viola Segnalini has been a psychologist and member of PsyPlus since 2021, with whom she collaborates in the area of ​​school psychology services and in the area dedicated to social inclusion and the fight against serious adult marginalization with the aim of implementing Housing First projects in the city of Rome.

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