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Britain’s hidden homeless

BBC 3

Homelessness is usually associated with bearded men begging for change outside shops or approaching you in a pub.

But in the recent programme, Britain’s Hidden Homeless on BBC 3, female rapper Speech Debelle, winner of the music industry’s prestigious Mercury Prize, explores the other side of homelessness for people who sofa surf.

Officially 17,000 young people are classed as homeless but charities believe the real figure could be three times this.

The number of rough sleepers in the UK has increased by more than a fifth in the last year and it’s still rising. With the cost of living, especially rents, and youth unemployment still growing, it’s hardly surprising. Debelle uses the show to talk to young people who have no stable home.

The presenter herself ran away from home when she was younger and drifted for three years.

Many of the people she talks to have to stay on friends’ or relatives’ couches because of family problems at home or the inability to get a job.

In London rents have rocketed to an average of £650 a month and demand is enormous.

The programme shows harrowing examples of youngsters suffering from the cuts to government schemes and charities.

One such case is Steven, 25, who has long since exhausted the goodwill of friends to sleep on their couch and now resides in a shelter.

As the shelter relies on charity money it can only stay open for a few months a year and when it shuts Steven will be homeless.

He is waiting for an operation for an ear condition that is preventing him from getting a job but was still refused emergency housing.

Nikita is 18 and left home after arguments with her alcoholic mum. She sleeps on her sister’s couch but is woken repeatedly in the night by the cold, her sister’s baby, and the discomfort.

Debelle observes that if people are in a worse position they get help but if you are close to the breadline without being on it, then no help is available.

Councils are only obliged to provide accommodation for those who are leaving care, have a baby or are under 18.

Sam is a graduate whose mother lost her job and was forced to sell her house. She now lives in a tiny one bedroom flat on housing benefit, meaning no one can stay with her long-term.

Sam stays with her mum and friends while she looks for a job in London but until she finds one she drifts between homes. She often goes to bed without knowing where the next night’s roof will be and is desperate for a change.

There are other stories of young people in similar situations, mostly borne out of family troubles and arguments at their parental home.

Some of the youngsters become accustomed to life on the move and become almost institutionalised to it.

Each situation is different but a common thread is vulnerable people threatened by vicious market conditions.

The chronic lack of house building, cuts to charities and government and rocketing rents have left many stranded.

It is hard to define the extent of homelessness as many slip through the cracks of society and go unrecorded.

As the housing crisis gets worse and the market deteriorates more people will end up without a home.

Some will be bearded old men but some will be young people never knowing the stability of a constant roof over their head.

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