Emergency Housing for Young People

Holistic models that address a growing problem

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Homelessness is not a new phenomenon, it has existed throughout history despite our best efforts to eradicate it. Whilst the homeless crisis continues to worsen, our response to mitigating it has remained largely the same. With over 300,000 people estimated homeless in the UK today a radical change of approach is needed.

In March 2020, the government’s “Everyone In” scheme provided a temporary solution for people sleeping rough during the pandemic. 15,000 hotel rooms were utilised to provide a safe space for people to sleep, essentially eliminating 90% of rough sleeping overnight. This unprecedented response demonstrated that radical change can be made when circumstances demand it.
Despite the “Everyone In” scheme, thousands of people have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic. Homelessness amongst young people in particular is at an unprecedented high; with a rise of almost 50% in the number of 16 to 25-year-olds sleeping rough in the capital in 2020, compared to this time last year. This will only get worse.

The pandemic has put greater pressure on young people in complex family living situations and insecure employment. Increased numbers of young people without alternative options are finding themselves without a home. Youth homelessness can be addressed if a holistic provision of shelter and support is provided at the critical point before they become entrenched. A preventative approach must be taken to this unacceptable increasing incidence of youth homelessness.

There is a severe shortage of fit for purpose emergency accommodation for young people and the minimal accommodation available offers little more than a place to sleep. It can be intimidating, hostile, isolating and unsafe exposing vulnerable young people to traumatising experiences that will stay with them for life. Legislation and guidelines for emergency accommodation for young people is nonexistent and the quality of these spaces therefore cannot be controlled. This offers a stark contrast to the variety of different housing tenures represented and legislated in the UK.

Housing for young people.
Shelter from the Storm is an innovative homeless shelter that provides accomodation, healthy food and holistic support, London, Holland Harvey Architects. Photo © Nicolas Worley

Emergency accommodation is a fundamental part of the picture that must be represented within centralised statutory guidance if we are to meet society’s housing need, and put an end to the systematic issue of homelessness.

Working in the built environment industry, we have a responsibility to provide spaces for people from all walks of life, but also to look for opportunities for improvement to the status quo. Homelessness is a complex international issue that requires effective solutions and an innovative approach.

Design as a catalyst

In 2018, I launched an ideas competition that challenged designers to propose creative design ideas to address the homeless crisis. The Hidden Homeless competition explored ways in which purpose built emergency accommodation for the young homeless could coexist alongside a commercial development. The replacement of “affordable housing” with “emergency accommodation” within a typical planning development model shines a light on the lack of policy for emergency accommodation and offers innovative design solutions as a benchmark for change. All of this, as well as a stepping-stone approach, was clearly visualised by the winning team Morris+Company.

The competition was a product of extensive consultation with charities, developers, designers, social workers, educators, students and local and central authorities. It quickly identified that collaboration across sectors was key to unlocking the problem. This was the catalyst for forming our research think tank Architects Aware!

Design guidelines

The competition process and forming of Architects Aware! further highlighted the need for legislative guidelines for emergency accommodation and this has become increasingly clear the more we have researched it.

I have been working collectively with Miranda Maclaren, Director at Morris+Company and Polina Pencheva, Associate at Morris+Company to understand how to effect change, talking to diverse professionals and institutions as well as private sector developers—and critically—to young people who have experienced homelessness and who are living in shelters.

A guideline on housing for young people.
“We Recommend,” a set of guidelines for emergency housing for young people. Heather Macey (John McAslan + Partners), Polina Pencheva & Miranda Maclaren (Morris+Company)

We have developed a set of design guidelines with the help of a RIBA Research Grant, which summarises our research and that we hope offers a solution addressing youth homelessness. These holistic guidelines provide a bespoke framework for specialist supported accommodation that provides support from the moment a young person arrives, to the moment they leave offering them every opportunity to move towards independent living. Our guidelines look to provide a careful balance between private and shared experiences and to provide a welcoming, dignified and supportive environment that can be called home.

The guidelines are comprised of three parts: our research “Manifesto”; the case studies “Leading by Example”; and crucially, a set of guidelines for emergency housing for young people, “We Recommend.” We believe these guidelines should be adopted by local governments, to make good emergency housing for young people the norm and not the anomaly.

Our research is outlined by a short film, “We are not bad kids,” by Odelay Films, which looks to address the misconceptions around youth homelessness, and offers a fundamental case for change for this unacceptable situation.

We can do better, young people do deserve more.

Main image: A preventive approach must be implemented to curb youth homelessness. Image Alice Pasqual/Unsplash

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