One of the residents at the project I am currenty working at has just returned from a cruise around the Mediterranean with her family. Emily, 16, lives in Supported Housing and is therefore deemed to be both socially excluded and vulnerable to homelessness. Oh how times have changed, less than thirty years ago the socially excluded slept under newspapers in parks and lived off the generosity of passing strangers and elderly ladies banging tambourines. Today you can find yourself categorised as poor or socially excluded but enjoy a lifestyle that would be the envy of Medieval monarchs. Apart from cruises in the Mediterranean, Emily also possesses all the accoutrements of the modern poor: laptop, large TV in room and video game box. Although Emily's family background is working/lower middle class she is now classified as poor due to living in Supported Housing. However, whether she should be able to access Supported Housing is an entirely different manner.
I actually like Emily she is a nice kid overall, mostly polite and is doing her best at the local college. Like all teenagers she can be a bit boisterous at times and when she gets a few drinks in her she can be a bit noisy like anyone I guess. In the cold light of day you can talk to her about it though and she will take on board what you are saying. This makes a welcome change from those young people I have worked with who become verbally abusive and threatening when reminded to comply with the terms of their tenancy agreement. In fact the project where Emily lives is mostly inhabited by likeable teenagers, even the odd rogue we get here tends to be of the loveable as oppossed to the menacing variety.
However, as fond as I am of Emily I object to Emily being a resident at our project. Emily obtained accommodation at our project by applying to the local council as being in danger of becoming homeless. In order for the state to accommodate under eighteen year olds who are living at home the parents have to prove that the family relationship has broken down in the form of an estrangement letter. Therefore Emily's Mum wrote a letter saying that her relationship with her daughter had broken down and she was no longer able to accommodate her. I wonder did she add as a footnote that although unable to live with Emily she would be open to cruises and safaris in the Zambezi as long as she could hand Emily back to the state once she started to have one of her awkward teenage strops. Besides foreign excursions Emily's Mum also visits Emily several times a week and even does her shopping for her and Emily also visits and stays in the family home.I asked Emily why she and her Mum wanted her to come and live in Supported Housing. Emily stated it was because they used to row a lot about her going out too much. In other words fairly bog standard teenage issues and no reason for the state to intervene to give parents an opt out clause from parenting their own offspring.
Whilst Emily is well behaved in many ways there are those kids who when the parents avail of the opportunity to discard them on to the state go completely off the rails. If they wouldn't behave for their parents why would they listen to a mung bean munching vegetarian like me? For the majority of under eighteen year olds in Supported Housing it is a licence to do what you want without the interference of exasperated parents. Then there is the issue that for all those parents like Emily's who pretend that they no longer have a relationship with their kids in order to mask their inability to cope with the normal ups and downs of living with a teenager, there are those kids who are really estranged from their parents because the parents are drug addicts, alcoholics or violent brutes and bullies. There are also those young people coming out of care who have no family and supported housing is the first option available to them. For all these genuine cases their right to basic and minimal accommodation is delayed by the fact that there is a limited number of beds available in Supported Housing projects. This trend will continue as long as the system is so easily exploited and the mere writing of a letter allows parents to forfeit accommodating their own teenagers through the usual ups and downs of adolescence. Tonight there will be thousands of teenagers (the majority not feral brutes like Liam who I have wrote about) just out of care who will be accommodated in B&Bs often for months on end waiting for a room in a Supported Housing project.