Centrepoint, a homeless charity supporting under-25s in England, has seen a 36% increase in people seeking support since lockdown began. The charity, and young people who spoke to the BBC, say that some councils are failing them during the Covid-19 crisis.
“Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives,” goes the slogan.
But what if you don’t have a home?
“Your grandparents were called to war, you were called to sit on the sofa,” goes another saying.
But what happens if other people’s sofas were the only thing keeping you off the streets?
For many homeless young people, sofa surfing is the only way of keeping a roof over their heads, staying with different friends for days or weeks at a time, while they seek support and work out their next move.
While the government has stopped landlords evicting tenants until the end of June, there’s no protection from being thrown out by your parents or friends.
Quin, 24, was sofa surfing at her friend’s parents’ house when Boris Johnson announced on 23 March that the UK was going into lockdown.
She couldn’t move to another house because it wasn’t allowed – not that anyone else was offering to take her in. But she was already beginning to feel that she had overstayed her welcome.
Quin keeps all her possessions next to the sofa bed. They are lined up, still in the bin bags that she brought them in six months ago. When she’s looking for something to wear to her job as a carer she carefully rifles through the black sacks – ensuring that the room stays exactly how it was before she started to crash there.
She says the difficulty of sofa surfing is “just not knowing where my home is, not having anywhere to call home”.
“I don’t feel comfortable, because I’m sleeping in my friend’s old bedroom. I work from 6am onwards some days, so we can’t always share the room because he keeps me awake. Then I feel guilty that I’m kicking my friend out of his own bedroom.”
It then takes Quin an hour and a half, and three buses, to get to work. Then it takes another five minutes to put on the PPE that she hopes will protect the people she’s caring for, and herself.
As well as looking after people with mental disabilities, her new tasks now include deep cleaning the home twice a day and cutting hair.
When she finishes her longest shift at 21:30 she starts another virtual flat viewing. For the last six months she has just about managed to save enough, from the £8.50 she earns an hour, to put down a deposit somewhere.
So far 20 private landlords in Sutton have turned her down.
One message from an agent read: “I’ve just spoken to the landlord and unfortunately she has said that her and her husband want to pull out. Due to the virus she does not feel comfortable having tenants in the property who are in a line of work affected. I’ve tried to reason with her but she isn’t open to discuss.”
On 14 May, Quin was asked to leave the house where she’s been staying and given two weeks’ notice. In a week’s time, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, she has no idea where she’ll be sleeping.
Family breakdown and job losses are two causes of youth homelessness that have increased during the current crisis.
Homeless charity Centrepoint told the BBC that from the start of lockdown to the end of April,1,314 young people contacted to ask for help, compared with 838 in the same period last year – an increase of 36%.
Some weeks the helpline for England has seen an increase of over 50% in under-25s seeking homelessness support.
Centrepoint told the BBC it is “absolutely stretched” and requires access to the Covid-19 charity funding to help cope with the increased demand. However, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has still not published the criteria outlining who is eligible to apply, Centrepoint says.
Two leading youth charities, Llamau in Wales and Housing Rights in Northern Ireland, told the BBC that over the last two months they have seen a 50% increase in the volume of calls.
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