By Ian Dipple 04/05 Updated: 04/05 08:27
MORE young people in their early to mid-20s are losing their home or becoming at risk of homelessness, a charity has warned.
St Basils is currently funded to provide support to 94 young people aged 16 to 25 across North Worcestershire. But while traditionally it has been teenagers which predominantly needed the charity's help, increasingly those in their 20s are seeking support.
Emma Poole, service manager for North Worcestershire, said demand was growing as young people felt the brunt of the struggling economy and welfare reforms.
"We get a lot of referrals from Redditch Borough Council, colleges in Redditch and Bromsgrove and other agencies like ourselves such as Nightstop or the Redditch YMCA. Young people also come to us directly by googling the website. We have seen a high increase in referrals right across the north of the county."
Hayley Turner, Redditch co-ordinator, added: "Usually it would be from the 16 to 17 age group but unfortunately the referrals we are now getting, a large number coming to us are 22 to 25 that are homeless.
"They've been living away from home and they've lost their job, can't afford the rent and are finding themselves in a homeless situation."
On top of the official figures she added there was the hidden homeless - those who 'sofa surf' sleeping on sofas or floors at friends houses before they finally run out of places to go.
St Basils has been working in Redditch for a number of years providing support services to young people in the community but in 2009 it created a supported accommodation scheme in St George's. It provides a safe place for up to eight young people at risk of homelessness as well as a range of support services. They focus not only on providing young people with life skills - such as budgeting which with just £7.60 a day to live on is a challenge - but also looking at improving their qualifications and dealing with emotional and psychological issues to allow them to move forward.
But the scheme is not only delivering benefits for the individuals themselves. Crime in the immediate area surrounding the scheme is significantly down, saving police hours dealing with anti-social behaviour and other offences, as well as reducing the strain on mental health services.
The charity is also keen to build bridges with the community and recently held a gardening day at its Redditch property with residents from the nearby sheltered accommodation to work with the young people to add plants and flowers to the garden and allow them to get to know each other. The garden itself had been revamped with the help of The Princes Trust and West Midlands Probation Service and supported by a grant from Redditch Borough Council and £500 from HSBC bank.
However public spending cuts - in Worcestershire Supporting People Funding has been cut by £3million - poses a threat to the charity's ability to cope with demand and help the growing number of young people in need.
Jean Templeton, St Basils chief executive, said although they were looking at all areas of their work and having to tighten up, they were determined to find the money to continue to provide the high quality service which would make a difference.
"If you don't get it right for young people there are long-term consequences not just for their lives but their children and so it goes on," she said.
"We know we have got to understand some of the complexities of the experiences young people have as we move forward.
"We have to invest heavily in training and development of our staff. As all funding is under pressure now, the temptation is to go to bargain basement and organisations are starting to compete on price not quality.
"We are going to stick with the quality, investing in quality staff and programmes for young people and find different ways of funding that. You only have to look at some of the tragedies in the care system to see what happens when organisations go bargain basement."
Redditch MP Karen Lumley visited the project last Friday (April 27) to see for herself the charity's work
and meet one of the young people being helped.
She said she was keen to 'put her head above the parapet' by putting the issue in the spotlight and would be raising issues around funding and welfare reform at government level.
"I don't think as a society we actually value charities like this as much as we should. I don't know where these young people would end up without them. It scares me young people, like the girl I met, could end up on the streets. Instead she has turned her life around and is going to university and that's something we should be shouting from the rooftops.
"It is tough at the moment but they are doing an amazing job. This is something we should be helping them with more and I intend to take this further and contact the relevant minister so they can come and see for themselves."
Visit www.stbasils.org.uk to find out more about the charity's work.
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