Fran Beecher says B&Bs are not a viable option for homeless young people.
Being homeless is scary. It would be at any age, but at 16 or 17 it is particularly frightening.
Imagine then being put in bed and breakfast accommodation where you don’t know anyone, where you don’t have a lock on your door, where you can’t have a shower, where you can’t even heat up a tin of soup, or where there are adults making comments at you, shouting and swearing.
Some of these adults might have recently left prison, or have problems with substance abuse.
There’s no one to call and you don’t have a phone or any credit on you if you do.
Tragically, this is the reality for children right now in Wales.
Providers in the End Youth Homelessness (EYH) Cymru charity partnership are reporting that the use of B&B accommodation for homeless vulnerable young people is slowly starting to increase.
The partnership tried to gauge the extent of the problem with a Freedom of Information request, but only ten of the 22 Welsh local authorities responded.
Reported use of B&B accommodation varied across the authorities: four areas reported no use of B&Bs ; two areas reported low use (one to three per cent of 16-17-year-old cases in a year ; and the remaining four areas reported much higher B&B use, ranging from 18 per cent to 67 per cent of 16-17-year-olds .
In terms of numbers, EYH Cymru estimates approximately 96 – 102 16-17-year-olds in Wales were accommodated in B&Bs during 2013-14.
While the numbers affected by this practice may not sound huge, the impact it can have is: young people in B&Bs are reporting feeling frightened, being dirty and hungry, and in the worst cases even facing sexual and physical abuse.
What we are talking about here is a serious issue of vulnerable children being put at real risk of danger; it is unacceptable and has to stop.
The good news is there is a simple and cost-effective solution.
For a start clear, unambiguous guidance prohibiting the use of B&B accommodation to alleviate emergency homelessness for 16-17-year-olds could be drawn up.
In England, UK Government advice states B&B accommodation is not suitable for this age bracket “even on an emergency accommodation basis.”
However, similar Welsh Government advice that aimed to achieve the same hasn’t worked; it states such accommodation should be avoided “wherever possible”. This means that local authorities are still using B&Bs. We don’t think they should, so the EYH Cymru partnership wants to work with the Welsh Government and local authorities to establish a safety network so vulnerable homeless children can access accommodation across Wales, rather than be placed in B&Bs.
The cost of placing a young person in B&B accommodation is approximately £335 per week, compared to the cost of supported accommodation of approximately £579 per week.
To place an estimated 96 -102 young people in supported accommodation instead would cost approximately just £30,000 per year more than is currently spent.
However, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential costs of dealing with morecomplex problems that vulnerable homeless young people could face; it costs the NHS £3,727 per year to treat one person for drug addiction and £2,015 for alcohol dependency. To deliver services for young people who become street homeless costs £8,605 per year.
The EYH Cymru partnership is hoping to work with the Welsh Government and local authorities to develop a network using their 24-hour supported projects, which provide support in an environment where young people who have had traumatic experiences can begin to move toward independent living.
We can’t carry on putting vulnerable children in danger in Wales. All children deserve to be safe, and those most at risk of harm and exploitation must be in a supported environment.