‘…………..BY DAVID DEANS
A group of charities says the Welsh Government and councils need to take action to end the potentially dangerous practice
A coalition of charities has called for an end to the practice of housing homeless young people in bed and breakfast accommodation.
The accommodation can often be shared with adults who have recently left prison and puts young people at an unacceptable risk of exploitation, abuse or worse, the group says.
Recent notorious cases involving bed & breakfasts used to house both recently-released offenders and homeless people have included the killing of a woman at the Sirhowy Arms B&B in Argoed, and the death of Darran Almond at the Morning Star B&B in Pontypridd, following which two people have been charged with murder.
Teenagers weren’t involved in either incident but the owner of the Sirhowy Arms, where 22-year-old Cerys Yemm was murdered, said she had been asked to house vulnerable teenagers, including care leavers, alongside sex offenders and people with alcohol and drug problems.
End Youth Homelessness Cymru demanded the Welsh Government creates clear, unambiguous guidance prohibiting the use of B&B accommodation in cases of emergency homelessness for those aged 16 and 17.
It also says that a safety network needs to be established so vulnerable homeless children can access accommodation, rather than be put in B&Bs.
Despite the UK Government having advised in England in 2010 that B&B accommodation was not suitable for the age bracket “even on an emergency accommodation basis,” Welsh Government advice only says such accommodation should be avoided “wherever possible”.
Frances Beecher, chief executive of Llamau, said: “Being homeless is scary. It would be frightening at any age, but at 16 or 17 it is terrifying.
“Imagine then being put in a B&B where you don’t know anyone, where you don’t have a lock on your door, where you can’t even have a shower, where you can’t even heat up a tin of soup, or where there are adults making comments at you, shouting and swearing at you.
“There’s no one to call, you don’t have a phone or any credit on you if you do.
“This is what’s happening to children right now in Wales. We are saying this is simply wrong. We are putting children in danger.”
Its estimated that between 96 and 106 16 to 17-year-olds were accommodated in B&Bs in 2013/14, but there are no concrete figures, the group says, calling for more research to gauge the extent of B&B use.
Erin, not her real name, was put up by a council in a bed and breakfast at the age of 16 after her mother decided to move to a different country.
Erin was exposed to extreme levels of danger and abuse, End Youth Homelessness Cymru says, and one night was violently attacked and raped. She became addicted to drugs and started self-harming to cope.
She later moved into accommodation run by Llamau, where she received support to settle down and stop drinking.
Llamau said it costs £977 a year to provide mental health services to someone like Erin – compared to £3,727 the NHS may have spent if she had continued to use drugs as a coping mechanism.
The campaign has been supported by Labour Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle, who said: “There can be no justification for placing care leavers at risk of physical, emotional or sexual harm through unsuitable or unsafe accommodation.”
‘B&Bs only ever used as a last resort’
A spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association, which represents Welsh councils, said: “The most effective long-term solution for tackling homelessness is to offer early help to those at risk of losing their home and tackling the causes of homelessness at their source.
“This is the focus for new housing legislation in Wales and local authorities and their partners are working hard to reduce homelessness wherever possible.
“Bed and breakfast accommodation is only ever used as a last resort where more appropriate, emergency temporary accommodation is not available, and local councils are committed to establishing appropriate alternatives so that the use of bed and breakfast accommodation can be avoided for homeless young people in Wales.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We have been clear local authorities should avoid using B&B accommodation and must make every effort to find alternative safe and secure accommodation for 16 and 17-year-olds facing homelessness.
“B&Bs may only be considered as a last resort during a short-term, emergency situation. When they are used, local authorities must adhere to strict time limits and stringent quality standards.”
End Youth Homelessness Cymru is made up of the Llamau, Adref, Dewis, GISDA and Swansea YoungSingle Homeless Project (SYSHP) youth homelessness charities.