Escaping the trap: supporting homeless young people affected by youth violence and criminal exploitation

Young people experiencing homelessness, who are among society’s most vulnerable and isolated groups, face significant risks from criminal exploitation and serious youth violence. There is overlap between many of the factors understood to drive both youth violence and youth homelessness, such as poverty and exclusion, family breakdown, experiences leaving care and other state institutions, and difficulties with mental health and trauma. Homelessness can also increase young people’s exposure to violence and exploitation, whether in hostels, sofa surfing and in insecure accommodation, or sleeping rough.

Executive Summary

Youth crime and youth homelessness are distinct phenomena. Most homeless young people are not involved in criminal activity, and many young people who do have stable homes and family environments are also at risk of falling into youth violence or being targeted for exploitation by criminal groups.

However, this research has shown just how homelessness and exposure to violence can often be linked and how the experience of one can all too often cause or worsen the other. For young people caught up in violence, the loss of accommodation is a constant risk. And for young people without access to stable accommodation, the factors which put them at risk of being exploited or involved in youth violence – namely a lack of resources or support networks to rely on – are massively increased.

In spite of these challenges, this research highlights the wide range of services and organisations committed to providing advice and support to young people at risk of both homelessness and exploitation. However, in the face of increasingly limited resources and uncertain futures, much of this support is aimed at tackling crises and not geared toward prevention. The reduction in non-statutory services, especially youth services, can mean that the range of options for both diversion and recreation, and advice and support from trained and trusted professionals are limited for some of the most vulnerable young people in society.

Evidence of success in Scotland suggests that violence can be best tackled when understood in a wider context, and when everyone takes a responsibility in identifying and assisting those at risk. The same principles apply to preventing homelessness for young people, and we need to recognise the role that a secure and decent home can play in safeguarding young people from violence and exploitation.

There are no quick or easy fixes to the root causes of youth violence. The recommendations in this report, however, are intended to help identify and support those who may be currently at risk, and to highlight the role homelessness organisations can play in supporting and protecting the young people they work with to avoid harm and exploitation.

Key findings and recommendations


  1. Youth violence and criminal exploitation are significant drivers of youth homelessness, and the loss of accommodation is a significant risk for the young people involved. Much has been done to highlight the risks of youth crime and violence, but the impacts on a young person’s housing situation should be made clearer.
  2. A lack of diversionary activities and targeted support for young people puts them at risk of falling into criminal activity and gangs. Universal youth services, family mediation and access to therapies and mental health support can help prevent both youth violence and youth homelessness, but need adequate funding and long term stability.
  3. The experience of homelessness puts young people at an increased risk of getting caught up in criminal activity. From sofa surfing to staying in hostel accommodation, homeless young people are vulnerable and without support risk being targeted by gangs and exploiters.
  4. Difficulties accessing sustainable employment, and challenges arising from the benefit system can push homeless young people towards criminal activity and make them more vulnerable to exploitation.
  5. Young people moving on from homelessness and into independent accommodation risk being targeted for exploitation if they do not have the right support. Loneliness and isolation can push young people towards risky situations and networks, and the loss of accommodation and repeat homelessness.
  6. Homeless young people are some of the most vulnerable members of society, but are often not seen as such. Treatment by the police and other agencies often does not take into account specific vulnerabilities, especially for those aged over 18.


  1. The Department of Work and Pensions should ensure that the benefits system is able to cover essential living costs for young adults, and that supported accommodation residents are able to access sustainable employment through restoring the original lower-rate work allowance to this group.
  2. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should ensure that young people across the country have access to quality and professionally staffed youth services; local authority youth services should be placed on a statutory footing and funding guaranteed by government, as should funding for youth work qualifications.
  3. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should support young people and households affected by serious youth violence to access alternate accommodation, through updating national homelessness guidance to provide greater clarity around priority need.
  4. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should provide resources to local and regional authorities to expand and replicate successful housing-led gang exit schemes such as the Pan-London Housing Reciprocal.
  5. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should ensure that local authorities are properly resourced to provide highquality, ongoing floating support and advice for young people moving on from homelessness.
  6. The Home Office should ensure adequate funding for the Police to enable Police and Crime Commissioners to sign up to the ‘commitment to refer’ those experiencing or at risk of homelessness to other local agencies in order to provide holistic support to young people affected by youth violence and criminal exploitation.
  7. The Ministry of Justice should build upon the recommendations of the 2015 Justice Select Committee report and review the criminal records system in relation to children and adults up to the age of 25 to ensure that young people convicted of minor offences are not blocked from accessing opportunities in later life.