Chief executive Ben Keegan discusses youth homelessness and inequality

Ben I’m Ben Keegan. I’m the chief executive of Roundabout. Roundabout’s been in Sheffield since 1977 and we house and support young homeless people aged 16 to 25. We’ve got an emergency hostel, which is just off London Road, which is for 16 to 21 year olds who have become homeless that day. It’s called a direct access hostel, which means that anyone can refer themselves there, although most of our referrals come from Sheffield City Council.

In the last month or so we’ve open this service here, which is our prevention service. Our hostel’s always full. This service is about preventing homelessness, working particularly with young people who’ve come directly from a family home, to try and help them go back home. So we’ll do mediation – talk to parents, see what the issues are at home, and see if there’s anything we can do that’ll help. Or just give a little bit of respite for young people.

Do the young people who use your services tend to come from specific areas of Sheffield?

Ben We get a lot of referrals particularly along the [83] bus route. So it’s from the Southey area, S5 area, some from Burngreave, but a lot in that area. The other area we do tend to get a lot is the S2 route.

But then we delve deeper and say, ok, well what’s going on in these homes, in S2 and S5 areas. Usually it’s issues with the parents. The parents have got mental health issues, substance misuse, drug and alcohol issues – that causes tension. They’ve got unemployment issues. There’s tension on money, space, and this causes rows within the family home.

If you’re in a house or an area that’s got a bit more wealth, bigger space around, there’s less tension on income, perhaps less social issues. People are still going to argue – I’m sure there’s a similar amount of arguments – but people can work through them better, and it doesn’t lead to that emergency situation where people feel they need to leave.

What’s your experience of inequality in housing?

Ben Every young person in need should expect decent housing, but not all young people can get into our services. Particularly in the private rented sector, we’ve dealt with people who can’t afford a deposit but have been taken in by landlords that are really living in terrible conditions, of damp and ill repair, but that’s all that’s available.

What issues are homeless young people particularly vulnerable to?

Ben Homelessness can affect anyone, and we have young people who are still at school. They’re able to still do that. Some people still do their exams and get through it, but they’ve also gone through a crisis that’s led them to leave their family home.

Most of the young people who are homeless and in our services are in some kind of education or training. About 80% are signed up to a course of some kind. So it’s quite high, and that’s part of our role, to make sure that young people have access to those courses. It’s not a problem particularly about finding a course. The problem is about sustaining a course. A lot of the young people we work with have other issues around substance misuse, mental health, learning difficulties, and they find that stress of going to a course every day too difficult, and they’ll often drop out.

Some education providers are really good at understanding that. There’s a project in Sheffield called the Really NEET College, and they’re particularly set up for our client group and vulnerable people. They will go that extra mile and make sure people can come back into courses and get their accreditation or qualification.

Does providing shelter deter young people from crime?

Ben The national statistic that is really shocking is that if someone’s been in a young offenders institute, in the first year they come out, 72% of them now will reoffend. If you’re already in that offending behaviour or you’ve learnt to commit offences, then it’s really difficult to get away from that. We’ve got a specialist service at Roundabout that works with young offenders, particularly when they come out from young offenders institute, and we’ve managed to reduce that to about 30% of the young people we work will still offend, which is still bad but a lot better than the 72% nationally.

What we find is that they’ve had generations of parents who have committed crimes and they see it as a natural way of life. It’s something that’s expected, that they will commit crime. If crime’s quite normal, or it’s not frowned upon massively by the people that you look up to, then it’s natural that you’re going to commit crime.

What is fairness?

Ben In an ideal world, it’s like a game, I suppose. You’d say fairness in sport or in a board game, you’ve got rules and you can see what’s going to happen. I suppose it’s those kind of rules in fairness – that if you’re a good person, and you lead a good life, then life will be good to you. That’s what should happen, and everyone should have the same opportunities to get happiness in life.

If crime’s quite normal, or it’s not frowned upon massively by the people that you look up to, then it’s natural that you’re going to commit crime.

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