Teenagers in Warwick have come together to take on homelessness in their district, conducting research and donating their time, effort and money to find out more about the problem and how to make a change.
Jess Robinson, 17, is a member of Warwick District Youth Forum, a community group made up of young people from the area that is based at Lillington Youth Centre. Along with other members of the forum, Jess and her friends launched Youth Against Homelessness in January 2018 after noticing the increase in people sleeping rough in Leamington Spa.
Warwick district has the highest number of rough sleepers per 100,000 in the county as of 2017, and it is estimated that countywide the number of people sleeping on the streets increased 25% from 2016 to 2017.
Speaking about the group’s work, Jess said: “We felt that this social problem was staring at us in the face, demanding us to take action and help our fellow human beings. Then we thought, but how are we going to achieve something? We thought a charity project would work, but we wanted to do some research as well to help us see see the bigger picture and collect people’s beliefs about the root causes of homelessness.”
During the summer, Warwick District Youth Forum, which also includes Ajay Bawa, Beade Paxton, Pouli Tritter, George Towl, Saheena Dhanda and Ethan Liddell, conducted a survey of members of the public ranging in age from 10 to 80+. The focus of the survey was on attitudes to giving money to people who are homeless, personal experiences with homelessness and possible actions that could be taken to address the causes.
Shockingly, of 47 respondents, 9 had been at risk of becoming homeless themselves in the past. Jess commented: “This stressed to us the sad reality of how so many people including young people without safety nets, were just ‘one paycheck away’ from desperately sofa-surfing, relying on friends, or ultimately, being on the streets.”
Following their survey and fundraising activity, the group secured the support of a local branch of NEXT and delivered over 200 pairs of socks to Leamington Night Shelter after they spoke to the organisers of the scheme and discovering that there was a need for basic warm clothing.
Councillor Jeff Morgan, Warwickshire County Council’s Portfolio Holder for Children & Families, said: “It is so touching and humbling to see these young people take the initiative and not only come up with the ideas for a fundraising project but to see them through, not to mention undertaking some valuable research of their own. Well done to Youth Against Homelessness, you should all be very proud of yourselves.”
Earlier this year, Warwickshire County Council allocated £300,000 to help tackle the causes of homelessness, and in September hosted a conference attended by all local partners. A strategy for the countywide approach to homelessness prevention will be published early next year.