Help for young people facing homelessness

News Research redevelopment Uncategorized

This blog introduces TheSite’s new housing section – the first phase of YouthNet’s response to the housing crisis engulfing young people in the UK today.

Understanding the problem

The story started over a year ago. Funded by Nominet, we brought together housing and homelessness experts and young people to research the root causes of homelessness (see an earlier blog outlining the process).

We assumed young people became homeless for financial reasons – but we were wrong. Our research shows the main factor is almost always family breakdown of some type. As our video Spike’s story illustrates, a huge range of family issues can lead a young person to leave home. And often, like Spike, they don’t even see their situation in its true light until it’s too late. Sofa surfing with friends can seem like a fun option, until the sofas run out.

Intervening early on the root causes of homelessness

It followed that what is needed is a focus on all the strands that can lead a family to break up – so we’ve produced content about divorcebereavementmental illnessparental alcoholismneglect and child abuse. We look at solutions young people can access themselves without external support – whether it’s calling a helpline, going to their GP or asking for family therapy or mediation. Thanks to the National Youth Reference Group and YMCA for helping us find case studies for this section.

Another discovery is that one in three young homeless people are Lesbian, Gay, Bi or Trans (LGBT). As Bob Green from Stonewall Housing points out in our videos about the problems young LGBT people face , even in 2014, coming out is still a scary process and one that can sadly result in being kicked out of home. Young people like Zeph, who eventually found support from the Albert Kennedy Trust, are among the most vulnerable and hidden in our society.

Offering crisis help

As well as looking at the root causes of homelessness and asking what a Spike or a Zeph might need to avoid leaving home in the first place, we’ve focused on providing information about how to leave home in a managed and safe way if that’s the only option.

We’d like to thank Centrepoint for helping clarify what it means to be ‘legally homeless’ and what to pack if you’re leaving home. Our thanks also go to Shelter for providing expert responses to 25 housing Q&As.

Dodgy landlords, annoying housemates, trouble paying the bills

We’ve tied the launch of our work on family breakdown and homelessness with the migration of our housing content onto TheSite from our old platform. The problems that dog young people in the rental sector are endless and can mean anything from a pesky dripping tap that gets in the way of exam revision to facing eviction because of rent rises. We’ve tried to cover the whole spectrum in our housing problems section.

Of note here is that we co-opted several young vloggers to tell us about their housing tribulations. This strand of work features debuts from Youthnetters Josh and Luis and a special appearance from long-standing YouTuber Beckie0, who kindly lent her time to this project. Using vloggers is proving a very successful way to engage young people and following this trial we hope to work with many more new and established YouTube personalities.

The end of the beginning

This piece of work represents the completion of the first phase of a three year project aimed at intervening early on youth homelessness.  Our vision is of a digital ecosystem of support that mirrors young people’s lives. Our research has helped formulate a three year plan encompassing interlinking and complementary digital products that address specific need states around relationship breakdown, sofa surfing and slipping close to homelessness.

We know that there is not a single product solution to homelessness, and we will continue to collaborate with sector partners and young people to establish our approach as it develops.


Hidden Homelessness in Young People

News Research

We started with an issue – homelessness in young people.

We knew various external factors were combining to create a perfect storm of homelessness for young people.

  • Changes to the welfare benefits system.
  • The lack of affordable housing stock.
  • The withdrawal of easy to access mortgages.
  • A more challenging jobs market.

This combined with intelligence from the thousands of young people we support on our boards, live chat and face to face led us to realise we had to act.

We began by drawing together a group of experts: Housing sector colleagues from Shelter, Depaul and Centrepoint and St Basils; third sector colleagues from Get Connected; representatives from academic sector at LSE; as well as people from the digital world like Scramboo and Harriman Steel.

Most importantly we spoke to groups of young people in Birmingham and London who had experienced homelessness.

And…. like all good research projects, the first thing we found out was that everything we thought about homelessness was wrong.

We thought that we would be creating some kind of service for a generation of young people who were sofa surfing for financial reasons.

What we discovered was that the real cause of homelessness in young people was – in almost every instance – a catastrophic breakdown of relationships within the family driven by:

  • cultural differences
  • violence and abuse
  • bereavement
  • the arrival of a new partner

This insight had immediate impact.

We have been funded by Nominet Trust to review the housing content made available on TheSite. So as well as updating all our factual information about rent, mortgages etc , our editorial team begin to look at content covering family conflict in our relationships section.

As we continued to explore this concept through interviews and co-creation sessions with young people, we discovered the journey to homelessness was a three stage process.

A crisis at home would precipitate a fluctuating journey in which young people bounced between home and sleeping on friends’ sofas, home and hostels, home and rough sleeping…

Throughout this period of slipping a young person’s mental wellbeing was slowly eroded and with it their ability to bounce back.

As they became close to homelessness their shame and alienation left them isolated and powerless to take control of their situation.

Our colleagues in the housing sector deliver amazing provision for young homeless people. And we saw this first hand during the project. But despite seeing and recognising this journey, it was usually beyond their remit to be able to intervene at these early, crucial stages.

So for YouthNet, we saw a real opportunity to create impactful digital products that:

  • would not duplicate existing services,
  • would play to our strengths around the emotional wellbeing of young people; and
  • were ideally suited for early intervention.

As always we worked with young people to create actionable concepts for these digital products.
You can find details of these and all of our insights on the research website at

How young people use mobile phones to seek help

mobile support Research YouthNet

YouthNet has completed the first stage of a research project funded by the Nominet Trust that looks at how young people use mobile devices to meet their support needs. The research, involving more than 1,000 young people, consisted of online focus groups, an online survey, and offline workshops. The insights gathered will inform the next exciting stage of the project, where we will work with 16-to-25 year-olds as well as technological and youth experts to develop innovative and ambitious ideas on how to support young people through technology.

Below is just a taster of what the research revealed…

Today digital technologies are becoming increasingly ingrained in young people’s lives (with 99% of young people in the UK accessing the web), the internet is being accessed through an ever growing range of devices (i.e. 78% of young people access the web through mobile phones) and young people are increasingly going online for information and support on personal issues (with 83% of them turning to online resources when needing advice and support).

This raises the question of how less traditional, non-PC online platforms can be utilised to provide much-needed information, advice and support for young people.

The research identified areas where mobile devices could bring real benefits to young people in need by focusing on how young people use the device and the characteristics which are unique to mobile devices – beyond the evident benefits of convenience and practicality. These include: (1) connecting people; (2) providing local information; (3) instant support; (3) practical help; (5) engaging and fun support.

The research also identified areas which need to be taken into consideration when developing support services for mobile technologies aimed at young people.

–          Understanding help-seeking behaviour: whether the support is online or offline, through PC or mobile, young people’s needs should be put at the heart of service delivery. The research showed that (1) sometimes seeking help makes young people feel worse, by making it real – young people prefer to tackle the problem in a broader lifestyle context; (2) young people’s needs are often inter-related and cannot be addressed separately; (3) the way young people feel when coping with practical challenges in their lives is an issue in itself – emotional states can greatly influence help seeking behaviour.

–          How to support young people by connecting them through peers: even though young people mainly use mobile to connect to their peers, they struggle to recognise the role of peers in supporting them with personal issues. How can awareness of the role that peers can have in supporting them be raised, especially through mobile technologies?

–          Understanding privacy issues: privacy is a concern when using mobiles to seek help, but young people’s opinions and attitudes are varied: (1) there are young people who understand the risks of privacy and would not share information; (2) those who understand the risks of privacy and would selectively share information; (3) and those who don’t understand the risks of privacy and therefore would be at risk of sharing information unknowingly– services need to take into account the needs of these three different groups. Furthermore, there are different ways to define privacy and it is crucial to take the following into account: data-related privacy (whether data can be tracked by online companies) and personal privacy (whether other people can see the personal information accessed).

–          Information needs to be quick: young people usually spend less than 10 minutes on their mobile in one session and don’t like to search for information on the device. Services developed for mobiles need to be easy to navigate and the information has to be quick to locate.

–          Young people seamlessly and naturally switch devices: 81% of young people switch devices during the same internet session and they do it naturally. It is crucial for support services to be developed across neutral platforms.

–          Young people receiving online information from different places: services providing support – especially on sensitive issues – have to take into account the different situations young people are when accessing help.

Watch this space – next year we will develop and test innovative ideas to make real changes to young people’s lives through technology.

For further information, you can contact Elena at

Insights from supporting young people through mobile technology research


Young people are prolific, skilled and dedicated users of technology. And the focus of this love of tech is their phones.

In the quantitative and qualitative research we did for this project we looked to identify insights into help seeking behavior that – when applied to mobile technology – could be used to inform opportunities for development in the mobile space.


For me, my phone is a trusted friend

For young people their phone was a consistent presence. It was a trusted friend and – like any good friend – a supporter and motivator.
In our workshops, we looked at how functional tools like calendars and alerts could support young people but we also worked on softer concepts. Young people often spoke of getting a “virtual hug” from their phone that could offer reassurance, build confidence or provide pertinent information when it was needed.
“Wingman” was one such concept – a constant companion and adviser that offered support, motivation and praise driven by a personal profile that allowed the application to react to a young person’s individual needs and interests as well as grow with them over time.

  • 82% of young people always had their phones on, even in bed (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Young people trusted their mobile phones to be the thing that would help to keep their lives together and wanted their phones to play an even larger role in motivating and supporting them (YouthNet 2012, workshops).
  • Many of the ideas of support for mobile technologies developed by young people were about mentoring, inspiring, motivating and “giving a hug” (YouthNet 2012, workshops).


I want my phone to keep me productive

Young people are under more pressure than ever before to get it together. They are under social pressure to keep up with their friends, pressure from the media to keep up to date with latest movies, music and games, pressure to get down the gym and look good. Most importantly they’re under pressure to perform at school and university because they need good qualifications to get a job in an ever more challenging and competitive job market.

As a result, young people reported feeling “stuck”, “out of control” and “unable to achieve their goals”. It’s not surprising that they were looking for support to keep them on track and on time. They wanted to see functionality in their phones that could prompt or even bully them into more productive behaviour.

One of the concepts developed by our groups was “Arse kicker”. “Arse kicker” was a kind of super-calendar that combined updates and alerts with forthright motivation and humorous encouragement.

It shows how young people might utilise the functionality of phones to enhance their lives and how they appreciated an element of humour and irreverence in a product even when it was doing something as boring as getting them out of bed in the morning.

  • Young people liked apps that gave practical solutions to problems such as the HSBC banking app, bus finder app etc (YouthNet 2012, workshops and focus groups).
  • Young people thought one of the main benefits of mobile technology was its practical functions (GPS, camera, heart rate monitor, barcode scanner…) (YouthNet 2012,  focus groups).


I can benefit from distraction

Stress was a consistent factor in young people’s lives. From self harm to job interviews, talking to a partner or waiting for exam results, stress underpinned nearly all the issues we discussed in our workshops.
Many young people used their phones for entertainment and a significant amount of young them had games on their phones or used them to curate favourite pictures and music. These activities and even checking social media updates were all behaviours that could distract from stressful situations.
We worked on concepts like the “Freak out Sponge” and the “Virtual Punchbag” – mobile panic buttons that could be carried with young people wherever they went that could be used to take the stress out of a situation.
It is worth noting that many young people had actually destroyed phones while under stress so they loved the idea of something that could help them cope without shattering their prized possession into a million pieces.
More importantly, providing a tool that helped young people to de-stress a situation gave them the space to make reasoned choices about next steps.

  • In 2011 65% used the internet for entertainment, a 110% increase since 2008 (Ofcom 2008 and 2011).
  • In 2012 50% used their phone for playing or downloading games, images, video or music (EU stats, 2012).
  • Young people used their phones to “kill” time and would be “more bored” if mobile technology was not available (YouthNet 2012, workshops).


I need my answers now!

Young people expected their phones to provide quick and focused information. They felt the ability of apps to cut through waffle on websites and provide focused, lightweight information was vital to help them make confident choices in real time.

Young people are “digital natives”. For them convergence between devices was part of their everyday reality. They would move seamlessly between their phone and their PCs for different information needs.

To serve this need for quick answers, we worked concepts like the “Virtual Guru”, a service that connected young people to experts who could provide instant, personalised answers on any topic.

Young people told us if you can’t say it quickly on mobile, don’t say it all.

  • 65% used their phone if they needed to know something urgently (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • 63% used their phone if they needed local information (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • For 45% a session seeking information on their phone would last less than 10 minutes (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • When researching complex issues, 92% would rather use their PC (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • The average time that users who access TheSite through mobile spend is 52 seconds, against 1 minute 47 seconds for those accessing TheSite through PC/laptop (YouthNet web analysis, 2012).


I don’t want to feel pressurised by my friends

At the core of a young person’s relationship with their phone was the vital real time link it provided with their peer group. It was how they kept in touch with their friends and found out what was going on. To lose your mobile or even downgrade to lesser model with decreased functionality was seen as “social death”.

Social media had a huge and intrusive reach through mobile as status updates and tweets followed a young person everywhere. Young people were bombarded with messages of their peers having a great time and felt challenged to be doing the same. Young people reported the strain of having to put on a show all the time and how this could be deeply corrosive to self esteem and personal image.

There is huge potential for services that harness the inherently social nature of mobile.

We looked at concepts like “Soulstock”, a viral game that allowed young people to invite their friends to visit them in their own virtual home decorated with the music, images and content they share.

But we also explored how we equip young people to handle themselves in the social sphere through the extension of the training we offer to give them the skills they need to become a supporting force for good among their peers.

  • 59% of young people accessed social networks daily (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Young people were put under pressure by the expectations of social media to be seen to be cool, happy, partying etc (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people compared hardware and software on each other’s phones and will make a judgement based upon this. (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people were wary of installing apps that are obviously relating to seeking help – they must be packaged accordingly (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).

Anonymity and privacy was probably the biggest concern that young people had when seeking support online and this translates into the mobile space.

However, unlike PCs where young people were pretty confident managing their privacy settings and clearing browser caches, young people struggled to perform the same tasks on their phones. They were also worried about how and with whom their data was shared by service providers. This meant they were reluctant to access account-based systems or share personal details on their phones that could drive truly powerful support services.


I want to take control of my identity

For anyone producing mobile services the challenge is both to ensure that data is managed responsibly and to do it transparently enough to allow young people to make choices about their personal information. But there is also a challenge to young people to learn the skills they need to take responsibility for their own safety online.

  • Young people are more likely to be worried about their data being tracked on their mobile than on their PC (YoutNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people don’t know how to protect their phones from viruses (YoutNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Young people are concerned many apps can collect data and share it with the app provider/ advertisers (YoutNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Only 25% would use their phone if they wanted to keep their research private (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Only 9% of young people would sign in with a personalised log in for a personal answer to a question from an expert (YouthNet 2012, survey).


I want my phone to do more to support me

Young people wanted phones to do more for them and believed that technology could fill in the gaps where they struggled with challenging situations.

We worked on concepts like “YouNi” where a phone’s existing functionality could be brought together to provide a holistic solution for young people starting at university. Here a map of the campus, communication with tutors and course mates, and information on university life could all be served to the user allowing new students to get up to speed with university life fast.

In our workshops we conducted an exercise in which young people were encouraged to imagine what their phone might do for them in five years time. One user anticipated a virtual library generated in a force field around him creating a warm, safe space for study.

Young people loved the idea that their phone could do amazing things and were particularly attracted to biometric functionality that allowed a phone to take your pulse or a picture of your face to tell you if you are sick or stressed and serve you content accordingly.

What this demonstrated was young people’s absolute belief in the power of technology and the transformative effect it could have in supporting them to take control of their lives.


My phone is private even in a crowd

Young people used their phones everywhere. Young people’s urgent need to have quick answers, combined with the trusted and personal relationship they had with their phone meant they would use it to seek help and support on sensitive issues even when they were in public spaces.

In reality a phone made it easier for young people to keep information private in shared spaces because of the small screen and the fact that the phone was their unique property.

Contrary to PCs and tablets which were often shared devices or accessed more publicly – for example in the family home or school – the perception of privacy in phones suggested that need rather than physical environment was the primary consideration of young people when accessing sensitive content through their phone.

  • 48% of young people said they don’t mind where they are when accessing social networks and 43% of young people said they don’t mind where they are when having short internet sessions to seek information (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • 24% used their phone when socialising with others, 23% during mealtimes, 19% in the toilet or bathroom (Ofcom 2011).


I want my content to be creative and shareable but not patronising

Young people saw themselves and their lives represented through the contents of their phone, using them to collect their favourite music, pictures and apps and sharing these with their peers.

Young people wanted the latest, most engaging and useful thing and worked this out by comparing their phone’s contents with friends.

As a result the language and the tone of applications needed to be light and fun on mobile technologies  – especially when there was a need to motivate (e.g. “Arse kicker” vs “Personal Planner”) but it must not be seen as patronising or self consciously “cool”.

Less positively young people would also make negative judgments based on the contents of a phone.

They were wary of installing apps which were obviously relating to seeking help.

  • 44% of young people heard of new technologies through recommendations (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • 36% heard of new technologies through recommendations through social media (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • PCs were seen as less frivolous than phones (YouthNet 2012, focus groups and workshops).


I love mobile web but I still call and text

While there has been a huge rise in the numbers of young people accessing the mobile internet, for a significant proportion of them making calls and sending texts was still the primary use of their phones – indeed 75% of young people send texts every day and 45% make calls.

Young people moved between the social channels like Facebook and Twitter and one to one texting depending on the urgency and sensitivity of the communication. They did this seamlessly and with very little forethought.

In our groups many young people expressed the desire to have expert support and motivation messages delivered via text which was seen as quick, easy and private.

While mobile web offered many opportunities, those designing services for young people must be aware that they will still use text and voice calls to seek direct one to one support from their family and peers.

  • 73% of young people owned a Smartphone (YouthNet 2012, survey).
  • Voice calls were used for private messages to one person where an immediate response was expected (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Texts were used for private messages to one person where an immediate response is expected (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Email was used for professional communication (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Twitter was used when communicating to more than person at once where an immediate response is expected (YouthNet 2012, focus groups).
  • Facebook was used when communicating to more than person at once when the answer can wait. (YouthNet 2012, focus groups)
  • Social media was used when young people are comfortable with the communication being public. (YouthNet 2012, focus groups)

Do-it Partner Survey 2012

News Research

In January 2012, 179 of the 665 Do-it partners completed a questionnaire exploring their experiences and perceptions of Do-it.

The main findings were as follows:

Of the 179 respondents that completed the survey, 150 used V-Base: 

  • 83% of V-Base users agreed V-Base helped them achieve their objectives;
  • 80% of V-Base users agreed their lives would be difficult without V-Base;
  • 74% agreed that they found V-Base easy to use;
  • 72% were satisfied with the software.

 30 respondents used V-Base Recruiter;

  • 22 agreed V-Base Recruiter helped their organisation achieve its objectives;
  • 19 agreed it was easy to use;
  •  14 agreed that life would be difficult without V-Base recruiter;
  •  30 were satisfied with service.

  Download the full report here: Partner report 2012