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Violence and criminal exploitation are driving youth homelessness, according to Centrepoint

By Clive Booth, PR Manager, FirstPort

A new report, by Centrepoint FirstPort’s corporate charity partner, has found that violence and criminal exploitation have become ‘significant drivers’ of youth homelessness.

Centrepoint, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity, found that challenges faced by homeless young people such as insecure accommodation, difficulties accessing sustainable employment, lack of family support network and challenges arising from the benefit system can push vulnerable young people towards criminal activity while also making them more susceptible to exploitation by criminal gangs.

The charity found that there was a significant overlap between the factors understood to cause both youth violence and youth homelessness. They include; poverty and exclusion, family breakdown, leaving the care system and difficulties with mental health or trauma.

Despite homeless young people being amongst the most vulnerable members of society, they are often not seen as such and risk being caught in a cycle of homelessness and criminal exploitation with the appropriate support out of reach.
At the same time, and as police have become better at targeting ‘traditional’ gang members, criminal gangs have turned to recruiting vulnerable people, who are less likely to attract attention from the authorities, such as younger teenagers and girls – two groups frequently exploited in county lines operations.

There are currently around 27,000 children in England who identify as a gang member, with a much wider group identified as being at risk of harm from gangs.[1]

All of the homeless young people interviewed in the report said not having access to a stable source of income was a key reason why somebody might become involved in criminal activity.

The report also concluded that a lack of diversionary activities and targeted support for young people, from services such as youth centres and sports clubs, increases the risk of engaging in criminal activity.

This comes at a time when serious youth violence is one of the most pressing public policy concerns in the UK.
2017/18 saw the highest number of people killed with a knife in England and Wales since records began, with over a third of those killed aged under 24.[2] In the same year 103,000 young people approached their local authority for help because they were homeless or at risk of homelessness.[3]

Since 2010 police funding has been reduced by a fifth,[4] local authority budgets have been reduced by almost half [5] and funding for youth services in England has been reduced by two-thirds (63 per cent).[6]

A recent YouGov poll found that over three quarters (77 per cent) of the UK think there is a link between the decline of police officer numbers and the rise in violent crime.[7]

Centrepoint’s report found that as a result of these cuts there is currently inadequate support available from youth services and family mediation services while access to therapies and mental health support is limited.

The charity also found that young people and families at risk from serious youth violence are often unable to access alternate accommodation, due to not being viewed as in priority need, and as a result young people are often made to leave their home, becoming homeless and more vulnerable to crime and exploitation.

For homeless young people, not having a stable home is a barrier to accessing and sustaining employment, while reduced benefit rates for under-25s makes it challenging for young people without family support to meet the costs of living[8]  and the rules around housing benefit and Universal Credit entitlements means that young people can be worse off by increasing their income or taking up more hours at work.

The report also found that for young people experiencing homelessness their sense of exclusion was intensified. Without support networks, such as friends and family, they were seen to be at an increased risk of becoming involved in gangs and criminal activity, which can offer social support and identity.

Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at Centrepoint, said: “Our research shines a light on how and why increasing levels of youth violence are pushing more and more young people in to a cycle of homelessness.

“We’re also seeing a worrying trend in which vulnerable young people are being exploited – with some authorities failing to make the link between homelessness and vulnerability to criminal exploitation. However, rather than just addressing the consequences, policy-makers need to focus on preventative measures; with an emphasis on stopping young people falling in to the hands of criminals and addressing the increased risk of homelessness that can follow.

“This can be achieved if our next Prime Minister is willing to provide long term funding to local authorities and explore new ways of guaranteeing that youth services have a stable footing in their communities.”

Despite homeless young people being amongst the most vulnerable members of society, they are often not seen as such and risk being caught in a cycle of homelessness and criminal exploitation with the appropriate support out of reach.


[1] Children’s Commissioner (2019) Keeping Kids Safe: Improving Safeguarding Responses to Gang Violence and Criminal Exploitation. London.

[2] Office for National Statistics (2019) Crime in England and Wales: year ending December 2018

[3] Centrepoint’s Youth Homelessness Databank

[4] National Audit Office (2018) Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018.

[5] National Audit Office (2018) The financial sustainability of local authorities


[7] The data was taken from YouGov Profiles, and collected from a National Representative sample of 22,059 panellists. All panellists were adults aged 18+ within the GB population. The question was asked between July 2018 to July 2019.

[8] Centrepoint (2015) Supporting disadvantaged people to earn or learn. London: Centrepoint

Key findings:

• Youth violence and criminal exploitation are significant drivers of youth homelessness, and the loss of accommodation is a significant risk for the young people involved.
Much has been done to highlight the risks of youth crime and violence, but the impacts on a young person’s housing situation should be made clearer.
• A lack of preventative and targeted support for young people puts them at risk of falling into criminal activity and gangs.
Universal youth services, family mediation and access to therapies and mental health support can help prevent both youth violence and youth homelessness, but need adequate funding.
• The experience of homelessness puts young people at an increased risk of getting caught up in criminal activity.
From sofa surfing to staying in hostel accommodation, homeless young people are vulnerable and without support risk being targeted by gangs and exploiters.
• Difficulties accessing sustainable employment, and challenges arising from the benefit system can push homeless young people towards criminal activity and make them more vulnerable to exploitation.
• Young people moving on from homelessness and into independent accommodation risk being targeted for exploitation if they do not have the right support.
Loneliness and isolation can push young people towards risky situations and networks, and the loss of accommodation and repeat homelessness.
• Homeless young people are some of the most vulnerable members of society, but are often not seen as such.
Treatment by the police and other agencies often does not take into account specific vulnerabilities, especially for those aged over 18.


• The MHCLG should update national homeless guidance to provide clarity on priority need when a young person is at risk of violence and/or exploitation.
• The government should make sure that young people across the country have access to professionally staffed youth services, through providing long term funding to local authorities and exploring ways to guarantee youth services have a stable footing.
• Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces should ensure they are doing all they can to help tackle homelessness, through signing up to a ‘commitment to refer’ those at risk for housing support, and the Home Office should promote good practice currently being undertaken by specific forces.
• Young people in supported accommodation should be supported in accessing sustainable and worthwhile employment, through extending the lower rate work allowance to this group.
• All agencies working with vulnerable young people, such as those experiencing homelessness, should ensure that they are recognising trauma and that services are designed with psychologically informed principles in mind.
• Housing providers and charities working with homeless people should have training and resources to be able to identify and support young residents at risk of violence and criminal exploitation.
• The government should ensure that local authorities and agencies are resourced to provide high quality, ongoing floating support and advice for young people moving on from homelessness
• The Home Office and MHCLG should jointly provide resources for devolved authorities to expand and replicate effective housing-led gang exit schemes, such as the Pan-London Housing Reciprocal.
• Literature review
An online literature review was undertaken through online searches and discussions with practitioners to signpost to relevant papers and reports. The review provided a starting point to assess previous research into the links between homelessness and exposure to criminal activity, and to assist with shaping the lines of enquiry for the qualitative research.
• Call for evidence
Between February and May 2019, Centrepoint sent out a written call for evidence to practitioners, working in the areas of housing, homelessness, policing, safeguarding and social services, youth services and youth justice. Ten organisations and individuals responded with written evidence.
• Interviews with practitioners
Fifteen practitioners took part in semi-structured interviews either on the phone or in person. These interviews explored how youth violence and exploitation affected young people experiencing homelessness, and how organisations were able to meet these challenges. These ranged from twenty minutes to an hour and a half.
A full list of participants for either the interviews or respondents to the written call for evidence call for evidence can be found at the beginning of this report.
• Discussions with young people
Between February and May 2019, Centrepoint spoke to 19 young people about their experiences of homelessness and exposure to youth violence and exploitation. Three young women and one young man who have lived in supported accommodation took part in semi-structured interviews lasting between half an hour and an hour and a half. A focus group was also held with fifteen members of the London Assembly’s Peer Outreach Team (aged 16 to 25), to explore what they saw as the main drivers of youth violence in the capital. Several participants had experience of homelessness.
Young people’s honest testimony is critical, however, the subject of this research topic presented several ethical considerations around the possibility of distressing and re-traumatising the young people who took part. Those identified for the research were either those that had moved on from supported accommodation a while ago, or those identified as appropriate by key workers and supported housing staff where they were still living in supported accommodation.

About Centrepoint:

• Centrepoint is the leading charity for homeless young people aged 16-25.
• Centrepoint supports over 10,000 homeless young people a year.
• It provides accommodation-based and floating support services in London, Yorkshire, Manchester and the North East. It also runs the Centrepoint Helpline.
• The freephone Centrepoint Helpline is for any young person aged 16-25 who is worried about homelessness. It is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. The Centrepoint Helpline number is: 0808 800 0661.
• Centrepoint’s work is about more than just providing a safe bed for the night; Centrepoint helps young people to turn their lives around by gaining essential life skills; tackling their physical and mental health issues and moving into education or employment.
• Through policy work, Centrepoint aims to influence public policy, campaigning on behalf of the young people it supports and homeless young people throughout the UK.
• HRH The Duke of Cambridge became Centrepoint’s Patron in 2005.