Young people are growing up in a world where they feel under enormous pressure. Many experience family breakdown, stresses at school, body image and sexual issues, mental and physical health challenges, threats to safety, deprivation, inequality and poor prospects for employment. This is exacerbated by a curse of our times, an online culture which, while transformational in many positive ways, has enslaved a generation with unrealistic expectations and an addiction to the relentless lure of social media.
When these risk factors conspire to create a major crisis point, one possible outcome can be homelessness. Staggeringly, according to the charity Shelter, an estimated 307,000 people in Britain are officially recorded as homeless or living in homes deemed inadequate. In London, one in every 59 people is homeless. Inevitably, this cohort contains a significant proportion of young people.
What’s more, the problem is getting worse, caused by the triple whammy of insufficient affordable housing, high rents and welfare cuts. Last year Shelter warned that more than a million households are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020.
Reassuringly, homelessness in the capital is gaining profile and has become a priority for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. He supported the recent launch of the London Homeless Charities Group, a coalition of 18 charities including YMCA England & Wales. Successfully addressing this complex social issue will undoubtedly require collaboration among organisations with complementary expertise.
In recognising that homelessness is not only a housing problem, YMCA North London (via the Charity and the Housing Society) provides a range of services in the Borough of Haringey, including supported housing and a fitness centre.
The role of YMCA North London (YMCANL)
YMCANL has defined two overarching objectives (the primary goal also acting as a vision), some accompanying strategies and five core values which we share with the national YMCA Federation. These statements of purpose flow from and are underpinned by YMCANL’s Christian ethos. YMCANL is committed to a world in which all young people can belong, contribute and thrive.
Objectives (deadline set at 2022)
- To be North London’s most highly regarded provider of safety, support and rehabilitation for vulnerable young people
- To be the community’s favourite local charity, recognised as a consistent and valuable contributor to the neighbourhood
- Strategies (for first objective)
- A progressive, three-stage pathway for young homeless people:
- Rescue: entering YMCANL’s safe surroundings; a roof over their heads; a well-managed, reassuring environment; positive interaction with expert, supportive YMCANL staff
- Restore: time spent by YMCANL staff exploring residents’ areas of interest and potential; help with training, obtaining basic qualifications; building individuals’ confidence; improving their health and well-being (concessionary access to the Fitness Centre)
- Re-engage: reflecting focus on providing temporary support while facilitating preparation for return/transition to education, employment; providing/finding move-on accommodation; monitoring progress; supplementing life skills; enabling progression to positive, sustainable, independent livin
- Forging alliances with organisations to help deliver the above pathway, filling the gaps in YMCANL provision – e.g. move-on accommodation
- Revenue generation, to ensure a secure financial position for YMCANL. This will come from three main sources:
- Continued surpluses from the Housing Society
- Improved return on investment from the charity, leading to consistent, robust surpluses – key role for the enlarged, refurbished Fitness Centre, supported by the Harringay Club, Childcare services and the well-established annual Fun Run
- Fundraising. An enhanced marketing function within YMCANL will help focus and intensify fundraising activity – opportunities will be identified across the board, from micro-level database mining to formal applications for significant lump sum donations
- Future-proofing. In support of YMCANL’s vision, the following long-term strategy is actively under consideration:
- Large-scale redevelopment of the main site at 184 Tottenham Lane. This offers the opportunity completely to review and redesign YMCANL’s approach to supported housing. Options for this project are to be reviewed over the coming months, acknowledging that a major fundraising campaign will be required to complete the work
- A progressive, three-stage pathway for young homeless people:
- Strategies (for second objective)
- A year-round community engagement programme of local events. Building on the success of the Fun Run, there is room in the calendar for more, high quality community-based activity. There is an immediate financial upside here plus, using the growing customer database, the opportunity to cross-refer participants from one YMCANL service to another
- Increasing the quality and quantity of YMCANL communication – for example, with members, Crouch End residents, schools and businesses, using the full range of affordable media channels. This activity, if sensitively executed, will improve the understanding of and connection with YMCANL and its work, leading to greater association, identification and loyalty from the community (providing revenue opportunities – use of YMCANL services, donations etc.)
- Leveraging afresh the YMCANL proposition in the community. Principally, the Fitness Centre no longer needs to apologise for its appearance or facilities, accepting that it still sits within the highly competitive budget gym sector. As such, YMCANL’s charitable purpose, its focus on inclusivity (evidenced by flexible pricing) and the fact that members’ subscriptions benefit vulnerable young people can be articulated to attract and retain members whose unwillingness to compromise on the usage experience, even for a good cause, has deterred them in the past
- We seek out: we actively look for opportunities to make a transformational impact on young lives in the community where we work, and believe that every person is of equal value
- We welcome: we offer people the space they need to feel secure, respected, heard and valued; and we always protect, trust, hope and persevere
- We inspire: we strive to inspire each person we meet to nurture their body, mind and spirit and realise their full potential in all they do
- We speak out: we stand up for young people, speak out on issues that affect their lives, and help them to find confidence in their own voices
- We serve others: we are committed to the well-being of the communities we serve and believe in the positive benefit of participation, locally and in the wider world