Homelessness isn’t inevitable

Story by Talog Harries – Upstream Cymru Project Manager

We know that a Wales without homelessness can only exist if we first create a Wales without youth homelessness!

Early intervention simply has to be made a priority if we are to stop the young people of today becoming tomorrow’s homeless adults.

If you don’t believe me, read this blog from Dr Peter Mackie!

It is precisely because of this belief that we’ve worked tirelessly to develop the early intervention initiative, Upstream Cymru. We began working on the initiative, which is the first of its kind in Europe, in the summer of 2019. The school-based initiative asks pupils to complete a survey, which allows us to identify known risk factors for homelessness at an early stage and intervene accordingly.

The project is based on successful projects that have been run in Australia and Canada, where intervening earlier and giving young people targeted support as soon as they needed it, led to reductions in youth homelessness of 40%. When you think that last year around 7,500 young people approached their local authority for help with homelessness, a project like this could have a significant impact on homelessness in Wales.

When we thought about all the things that could possibly go wrong during the development stages of this new project, all schools closing their doors overnight in the biggest health emergency in living memory was not a challenge we put on the list of things to consider.

Until it happened…

In the blink of an eye, a well-trained and resourced team went from ready to work in schools across south Wales to working from their kitchen tables. In the weeks that followed, we had to accept we wouldn’t be able to launch the Upstream Cymru project like we’d so painstakingly planned, so instead we had to adapt and reimagine what we were to do with our skilled and energetic workforce.

Like my colleague, Amy explains in her story, standing by was never an option for us, so we adapted, made new connections and began offering support to families who we knew would be struggling with the additional pressure of lockdown, restrictions on teenage life and the social and financial implications of the crisis.

We were able to operate a telephone support service and support young people via WhatsApp and Zoom. We made ground in schools and teachers were starting to see the benefits in the new support available, but most importantly, families were accessing the support they so desperately needed.

And then everything changed again.

On June 29th schools tentatively reopened their doors, not knowing what to expect to find when children not seen in months stepped back into class. Our hard work during lockdown to reshape the service and build relationships meant that Upstream was there from day one, providing face to face support where it was most needed.

The key to the success of the projects in Australia and Canada was identifying those young people who were most at risk of becoming homeless early on and acting before they reached crisis point. It might sound like that would be easy, but those projects spent many years refining a survey to ensure that those young people at risk were identified as soon as they needed support. We’re very lucky that they’ve been so willing to share what they’ve learned with us so that we can build a survey that will work in Wales. Since schools reopened their doors, we’ve been able to successfully survey 333 young people across two schools in Wales. It’s too soon to say whether the results we’re seeing will lead to the same level of reduction in youth homelessness that countries like Australia, Canada and parts of the US have seen but we’re confident that Upstream Cymru is going to make a huge difference to people’s lives.

The response to Covid-19 has been a mass movement, not in fear of the virus, but in an effort to protect our most vulnerable. As we move towards recovery, whatever that looks like, Upstream Cymru will keep striving to be a part of the support available to young people and their families, asking questions and seeking out the people who need us.

Bring it on!


Stories you may like…

Preparing young people for the tests of life and not a life of tests    |     Standing by was never an option    |    Interview with Peter Mackie and Sam Austin

Upstream Cymru builds on the success of an earlier Australian initiative where participating schools saw a
reduction in young people presenting as homeless. Similar success was also seen in Canada and the USA.

From the results we’ve seen so far, we’ve identified a number of young people the



can support as well as a number of young people needing support from external services, which we’re now establishing new partnerships with.

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