New Horizon CEO speaks out on hidden youth homelessness

Phil Kerry, CEO of New Horizon Youth Centre, speaking at 12 November Camden full council meeting. Photograph: Camden Citizen.

A King’s Cross youth centre has spoken out on the need for ‘honesty’ around hidden youth homelessness.

Phil Kerry, who runs New Horizon Youth Centre (NHYC), challenged Greater London Authority figures which he claims present a diminished picture of young people sleeping rough in London.

The  was speaking at a themed debate on rough sleeping at a 12 November meeting of Camden Council, which heard from support workers for homeless people in the borough, as well as clients of their services.

Kerry said: “We need to be honest about the scale of youth homelessness in this city. The Greater London Authority estimates that 7,480 people slept rough in this city last year.

“What is perhaps a surprise is that only 604 of those are estimated to be ‘young’. That’s not a figure that tallies with our or any of our youth homelessness partners’ experience in the city.

“We welcome over a thousand people through our doors every year and around 300-350 of those sleep rough. So when you take little New Horizon’s contribution to supporting rough sleeping, it’s likely to be a much bigger number than 604.”

According to GLA figures for 2017/18, eight per cent of Greater London’s rough sleepers were aged between 18 – 25 years.

Kerry went on to call for a new open-access youth homelessness shelter, pointing out that the area boasts only one year-round voluntary shelter which is appropriate for young people, Shelter from the Storm.

In September of this year, 126 people were found to be sleeping rough in Camden. This has risen from a total of 77 observed in July 2017, and just four people in November 2013.

Camden has always had the second highest number of rough sleepers of any local authority area in the UK due to its status as a transport hub, according to the Town Hall.

Cllr Jonathan Simpson (Lab, King’s Cross), cabinet member for promoting culture and communities, said: “As a teenager, I faced homelessness in difficult circumstances, but was lucky enough to have a voluntary sector organisation step in and support me very quickly.

“It’s really taught me that the voluntary sector is so important in making quick interventions in helping people.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor believes we have a moral duty to do all we can to help people sleeping rough in London. We know that many young people’s homelessness is hidden and doesn’t show up in statistics – for example, they may be sofa surfing, or sleeping on London’s transport. That’s why the Mayor’s dedicated outreach workers for night buses and tubes are so important, as part of his plans to double his outreach team this year.

“But we know the Mayor cannot end rough sleeping on his own; national Government must step up to provide the funding we need for more services, and stop making life harder for young people through their cuts. In the meanwhile we will do all we can with the funding we have, and continue our work with charities like New Horizons Youth Centre who do vital work to help young people facing a night sleeping on the streets.”

EDIT: This article was altered at 16:06 on 13/11/18 to include an updated response from the Mayor of London.