UN-Habitat and partner hold a side event on ending youth homelessness

Nairobi, 20 April 2021—On the sidelines of the EcoSoc Youth Forum 10th Anniversary, UN-Habitat and the Institute of Global Homelessness recently organised a joint side event on ending the scourge of homelessness among young people.

The event, entitled “Ending youth homelessness: policies, measures and success factors” aimed to discuss specificities of youth homelessness, identify successful initiatives and policies, and to assess their transferability and scalability to different contexts.

The event was opened by Shipra Narang Suri, Chief of the Urban Practices Branch of UN-Habitat, who contextualised the session as a further step building on the lessons learnt through the Expert Group Meeting on Affordable Housing and Social Protection Systems for All to Address Homelessness (May 2019), the 58th Commission on Social Development (February 2020) and the first UN resolution to address homelessness that was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council in June 2020.

Lydia Stazen, Executive Director of the Institute of Global Homelessness stressed the fact that ending homelessness calls for coordinate and cross-sectoral efforts because no one and no organisation can end global homelessness alone.

Speakers included: Anantha Krishnan, Secretary General of the Urban Economy Forum, who presented the World Urban Pavilion focusing on gathering and disseminating knowledge on youth and housing; Kelly Roth, Executive Director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness who presented the youth-led Lighthouse housing project; Ayisha Aminu, advocate for street children in Ghana who spoke about the specific challenges of young people and the impact that Safe-Child Advocacy is having; Sarah Coupechoux, Research Officer in Abbe Pierre Foundation speaking about the effect of COVID-19 on French and European young people; Dylan Waguespack, Director of Public Policy and External Affairs at True Colors United and Jha'asryel-Akquil Bishop, co-founder of Streetlives and member of the National Youth Forum on Homelessness, who both spoke about the added value and barriers to fully and meaningfully include young people in policy making.

All speakers highlighted specific drivers of youth homelessness, including aging out of government care – for example the Lighthouse project in Victoria, Canada, was initiated by the recognition that 1 in 3 young people in Greater Victoria became homeless after one month of leaving government care - and the gaps and silos between different types of support programme, as well as particular age barriers for receiving support - for example in France people under 25 years cannot access the minimum income.

At the same time, strong recognition was given to the fact that effectively addressing youth homelessness can have a dramatic impact on chronic adult homelessness (in the case of the Greater Victoria Coalition for example, 50% of the respondents to the homelessness count shared that they had firstly experienced homelessness during their youth).

Particular focus was also devoted to the importance of not only including young people in any discussion on policies that targeted them specifically, but also to ensure they are in a position to effectively drive those discussions and some of the barriers for their meaningful participations are addressed (eg. through training, but also proper remuneration for their time and expertise).

Summing up the discussion, Ms Leilani Farha, moderator, Former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing and Global Director of the Shift, highlighted the following recommendations:

  • Youth homelessness needs to be fully recognised as a violation of several human rights, including the right to adequate housing;
  • Young people are central in addressing youth homelessness. Therefore, they should not only be put in position of decision making, but also supported to ensure they have real power to drive direction and advance their vision of justice. All solutions have to be youth-led; 
  • Discrimination, criminalisation, and invisibility of young people in a situation of homelessness are further complicating advancements in addressing youth homelessness;
  • Policies and support programmes have gaps that should be recognised, analysed and addressed. In particular silos between different programmes should be broken, in favour of establishing holistic solutions across sector, in particular when it comes to income support, health and housing
  • A stable and safe home is the most effective way to ensure sustainability of support (Housing first interventions – when tailored on the needs of beneficiaries - have been demonstrably more effective than the staircase model, which is still the mainstream)
  • The goal should always be preventing youth homelessness, as much as addressing it.