YHNE is ending its fight to end homelessness

YHNE is ending its fight to end homelessness

There has not been a death but certainly a loss. The very sad news is that on the 21st August the Board of Trustees decided that Youth Homeless North East would cease operating by the end of October 2019. Many of you will know that YHNE began life in 2012, hosted by Centrepoint and with an independent Steering Group. In 2016 YHNE set up as a limited company and later registered as a charity. The decision has been made following a thorough scrutiny of YHNE’s ability to continue to deliver its charitable objectives as a going concern. Despite our best efforts, over the past few years we have failed to secure the funding required to sustain the organisation and so the decision to close YHNE was made.

We have a detailed exit plan in place which will now be executed in full. One of the earliest actions is the very difficult task of making this decision public, we have timed the release of the decision to allow us to speak to the young people we have been working with and their organisations first.

Up to the closure, YHNE will complete activity previously committed to; the final Survey of Youth Homelessness in the NE will include a retrospective analysis across the previous surveys going back to 2012 and a research project with IPPR North investigating young people’s access to housing, with an interim report in September and the full report in the autumn. Young people have been working on a project called ‘Young People of the North’, producing their own stories, presenting themselves without reference to their housing need or homelessness. We hope other young people and organisations will contribute more stories to showcase all the great things about young people in the region. Some of you may be aware of our work with young people on mental health. The recommendations from the ‘Why do I feel like this?’ report have been reviewed by young people and health sector stakeholders through a hackathon. The group decided to focus on one action; to develop a link/peer support worker, based on theories of social prescribing and early intervention. A Mental Health Working Group will continue working with young people to design a prototype. More information on the project will be available, links will be circulated at a later stage.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank colleagues across the region and given we have been around since 2012 the list is extensive so forgive me if you don’t get a mention here but know that every one of our partner relationships has been valued. Thank you to our voluntary community sector partners, with a shout-out to our past Regional Champions, Community Campus, Your Homes Newcastle Youth Independence and Youth Voice), Moving On, Centrepoint, Barnardo’s, Barnabas Safe and Sound and Berwick Young People’s Project, for your support in reaching and involving young people in the work achieved during the past nearly 8 years, and to partners taking part in recent activity; Depaul, North Tyneside YMCA, Sanctuary Supported Living, Coatham House, Home Group and Your Homes Newcastle’s North Kenton project and Stepping Stones. Thanks also to our Local Authority partners who we have been able to work with as a member of the North East Regional Homelessness Group, through our events, seminars and in sharing the resources produced to inform local strategic planning and by providing a voice for the young people they work with.

We have had the opportunity to collaborate with organisations and individuals that have knowledge, skills, passion and motivation in equal measures. The Youth Housing Charter, annual Survey of Youth Homelessness since 2012 and the events, research and specialist projects such as our recent ‘Why do I feel Like this’ Mental Health Project, would not have been conducted without our partner network across the region and strategic partners including Homeless Link, Shelter, Crisis, Northumbria University, the National Housing Federation, Northern Housing Consortia, Centrepoint, Changing Lives and Justlife. I would also like to acknowledge the partners mentioned above for their collaboration and hard work in contributing to the North East Homelessness Think Tank which I have chaired, and their collective achievement in conducting key research into Welfare Reform, the Impact of Sanctions and Measuring Homelessness, producing the NEHTT Charter as well as a series

of Research into Practice Seminars. A special mention is merited for the contribution made by Sheila Spencer in so many ways and for her role in coordinating, networking and producing reports and briefings on behalf of NEHTT and to Dr Adele Irving, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Northumbria University, for her contribution, producing our annual survey reports and other project reports, for presenting findings and for her ongoing support to YHNE and NEHTT. It has also been our honour to be a member of the North East Child Poverty Commission and previously with North East Talent Match.

We would like to express our appreciation to those partners operating beyond the region; we have had the opportunity to work with colleagues from the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, National Homeless Advice Service, St Basils and the Youth Parliament, FEANTSA and more recently with the Youth Homeless Advisory Group chaired by Homeless Link.

Our thanks go to our funders past and present and particularly to The Millfield House Foundation for the ongoing and supportive relationship we have benefited from through the Foundation Trustees and Administrators; Terence Finley, Fiona Ellis and Cullagh Warnock.

YHNE would not have existed without the original partnership who set up YHNE; Martin Gill – Centrepoint, Becky Elton – Homeless Link, Steve McKinlay- Depaul and Malcolm Stone -Barnardo’s, with funding from The Northern Rock Foundation, managed by Richard Walton. Hosting by Centrepoint and the support from Martin Gill, then Regional Manager for Centrepoint allowed us the freedom and flexibility to develop. This group of people became our Steering Group with later additions including Simon Virth from Community Campus, Herbie Cooper from Your Homes Newcastle Youth Voice, Kim McMaster from Your Homes Newcastle and Mike Clark, then chair of Thirteen Group. Mike continued to be involved and is now chair of the YHNE Board of Trustees, preceded by Susan Johnson, Trustee and Durham University. I would like to thank Mike and Susan for their leadership and commitment to YHNE and their support to the staff team. I would also like to thank current and past Board members James Armstrong, Partner at Muckles LLP, David Jackson, Director and Bellrock Business Ltd., Cyd Smith our Treasurer, Accountant at CSA Accounting, Professor John Mawson, Durham University, Paul Irwin, Director at Trylife, Caroline Moore, previously HR at Sage and Monica Burns, Partnership Manager for the National Housing Federation.

We have always been a tiny team with a huge footprint, and this has been achieved through working with a skilled, knowledgeable, passionate and committed staff team. Some of you will remember Kieran Platts who delivered activity with young people up to 2017, I would like to thank Kieran for all his tireless efforts, he has been missed. Thanks also to Arron Williamson, Communications and Administration, who quietly got on with a so many tasks that it wasn’t until he had gone that I really appreciated how much he did for YHNE. David Whalley, Youth Engagement Officer, often seen with a trolley full of tools and resources, ready to deliver activity with young people across the region. Martin Noble who took on the Communications and Administration role at a time when we had a lot to achieve in a very short time. The skills and efforts in developing digital tools will not be lost. Amanda Gill, who stepped in to deliver Youth Engagement activity, has done a sterling job of delivering the Youth Hubs and establishing a core group of young people attending on a regular basis. The work with young people will be passed to a partner organisation to follow on. Last but not least, Victoria Clark, YHNE Administrator, thank you for the back up that you have provided to me, the team, the Board and our partners. There are also some honorary team members, consultants and sessional staff who have worked with us; I would like to thank Kirsty Beeston an expert in youth participation and training who has more than once stepped into the breach on our behalf and Jac Scollen for her excellent work in producing videos with young people for the ‘About the Space’ project.

Our volunteer team is extensive and have provided a valuable contribution to the work of YHNE. Our thanks go to Neil Wilkinson for his development of the Youth Hub app for young people, Roots & Wings for their work with young people in rebranding YHNE and producing all of our materials, Andrew Robson for analysing data to provide valuable evidence for our social media platforms, Maddie Broxup for your narrative content, the team from SBA Architects who volunteered their time to work with young people to design the pop-up ‘safe space’, Jenny Johnstone and the Streetlaw team at Newcastle University for their work in producing the Homelessness Reduction Act video, Ben Darrah and Chris Brock from PRDKT for setting up and facilitating the mental health hackathon.

Finally, it has been an honour and a privilege to work with and on behalf of young people from across the region, not as a homogeneous group but valuing each individual, I wish we could have done more. The Youth Housing Charter was developed through consulting with around 60 young people from across the region. The Charter sets out a set of criteria that young people believe should be in place to stop young people becoming homeless. It is common sense, not rocket science; young people want education, to know more earlier so they can make informed choices, mediation when relationships are threatened with breaking down, preparation to give them the skills they need, and housing that is secure, long-term in an area close to services, family, friends and support networks, with support available to all who need it and over time by a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. The Charter for me sets out a manifesto and it is one that we have strived to address please continue the work.

The Homeless Reduction Act lauded as a new approach with an emphasis on prevention, widening the net to a greater number of people and involving them in planning the responses they need, cannot in itself end homelessness. The challenge was always implementation in the intention of the act versus ticking a box. Many now speak of the Act as merely an entitlement to an assessment; and it is still about a response at the bottle neck when things have already gone wrong. The real challenge is multifaceted, encompassing social policy, infrastructure and personal resilience. YHNE small as we are, aimed to influence the bigger picture. Perhaps an unrealistic ambition for a small regional charity but the body of work produced over the life of YHNE, evidence informed by the sector and young people, extensively disseminated through events, the YHNE website, our newsletter, social media platforms and crucially fed into strategic forums to influence responses locally I believe has had an impact. We have also developed national opportunities to showcase evidence to influence change, with and by young people; engaging with MP’s and through partnerships previously mentioned.

The reason YHNE is closing is because we haven’t been able to secure grant funding. We all know that grant funding opportunities have reduced over time and within the context of austerity funders are increasingly interested in investing in tangible results; getting someone a home, into training or employment, this is not what YHNE does. Our efforts, focused on the bigger picture, are less tangible, difficult to measure and to demonstrate a clear link between activity and impact. The Millfield House Foundation is unusual with its focus on influencing, and they also recognise the jigsaw puzzle of activity that contributes toward change, as I have said, they are increasingly a lone wolf.

Another challenge is ‘regional’. I recently discussed the nature and weaknesses of being a regional organisation, when it was described as an ‘ethereal existence’, when you are not quite owned by anyone. Certainly, there seems to be a push from funders towards localism, but not just localism, localism by the local community. It is not enough to be working in local areas, you must have clearer roots to the area and community. Ours is a broad brushstroke with an extensive network across the region. Greater localised activity which we wanted to achieve requires resources.

It is extremely difficult for small organisations like ours to compete with the wealth and infrastructure of national organisations who seem to dominate and determine local activity, often bringing in new national partners rather than supporting those on their doorstep. The closure of small charities like our is a loss to the battle to end homelessness particularly as an organisation that sought to work across the sector, encouraging and seeking to support a collective approach underpinned by shared actions and crucially putting young people at the centre. Like Murphy’s we’re not bitter but saddened to be leaving the field.

Sharon Brown


Youth Homeless North East

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