‘Youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow,’ is a precise and judicious remark made by Nelson Mandela. Gaining insight into youth perspectives and making them aware of the current issues could be an assurance for a better future. Youth perceptions on social issues could bring remarkable transformation in our society through their fresh take on existing problems. It is crucial that they understand, participate, and voice their opinions on community problems and we support and be inclusive of the youth perspectives as they are our future.
We started by asking our young participants whether they felt homelessness was an issue in Clacks and whether they knew someone at the risk of homelessness or is homeless. More than half (66.7%) of the participants responded that homelessness was an issue in Clacks. While (55.6 %) participants thought they knew someone at risk of homelessness or being homeless. Further, we wanted to ascertain the degree of awareness the young participants demonstrate regarding homelessness.
We continued to test their knowledge by asking about the current statistics and procedural aspects. We enquired about the number of homeless applications submitted in Clacks from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020. The correct answer was 523 out of the choices given to the participants, ( 1- 250, 251-500, 501-750 ), the majority chose 251-500. 33.3% chose the bracket of 501-750, and none of the participants chose the smallest bracket of 1-250. The majority of participants chose the option closest to the actual number. The Clackmannanshire Council received 523 homeless applications. However 424 applicants were considered homeless during the said period.
Interestingly the participants correctly estimated the number of homeless people in Clacks per 1000. The total number of participants also precisely judged that Clacks was the 3rd worst-rated for homelessness across Scotland. Additionally, all the participants were aware of the procedural aspect as they were aware of the authority to approach to declare homelessness.
Next, we tried to link homelessness with the criminal justice system. We asked the participants to use their best judgment to answer the following question that was based on the ‘Hard Edges Scotland research’. We asked them to gauge the number of people who experience a combination of offending substance misuse and homelessness within one year.
Young people’s perspective on ties between homelessness and criminal justice is illustrated in the figure below.
The HM Inspector of probation (HMIP) reported that 35% of people were released from prison to homelessness in 2018 -19. These people were almost twice as likely to commit the offence again. We asked the participants to find the percentage of people released from prison leading to homelessness. Out of the options given to the participants, 44.4% of participants chose 35%, 55.55% thought that the correct answer was 52%, and none of them selected 13%.
The next question connects homelessness and serious offences. A recent study found that 40% of homeless people commit imprisonable offences to spend the night in prison rather than the streets. 11.1% of young participants thought that 20% of homeless people commit a crime to spend the night in jail rather than on the street. The majority of the participants chose the correct answer. The remaining 33.3% answered 60% of people committed crimes to spend the night in prison.
The following question was about homeless people in prison and their belongings. People in prisons lose their belongings like their IDs while moving cells. We wanted to know if our young participants are aware of these details. The question put forth was, ‘Do people leave the prison where they started their sentence so that they have easy access to their belongings such as ID upon their release?’ The response to this yes/no question was answered positively by the majority of the participants. 33.3% chose no which was the correct answer.
They often move prisoners to different prisons during the period of their sentence. However, they do not carry the belongings they initially entered with. Thus, upon their release, they may lose their important possessions, such as IDs and other paperwork necessary to access their housing.
Another significant question related to criminal justice and homelessness is the number of people losing their homes due to imprisonment. The options we gave our participants were 1/2, 1/4 and 1/3. The majority chose the correct option – 1/2 while the remaining 44.44% chose 1/4; none of the participants chose 1/3
When we enquired the participants about the American jurisdiction and its recent policy that increasingly criminalizes activities associated with homelessness, the majority of the participants i.e. 66.66% said that the statement was true while the remaining 33.33% said it was false. The correct answer is that American local authorities are increasingly criminalizing activities associated with homelessness.
Lastly, we questioned the young participants about the correlation between homelessness and young people being at risk of crime/ violence. The majority of the participants responded positively and the remaining were either unsure or did not think there is a correlation between homelessness and crime/ voice against young people. This could be one of the central findings of the survey and significant to analyze how vulnerable young people feel to crimes/violence on account of homelessness.
We could deduce from the responses of these participants that they are concerned and realize the gravity of the issue. The young participants make a connection between violence/crime and homelessness and might feel vulnerable to its threats. The findings of our hot topic activity and young people’s perspective coincide with the findings of our research – ‘Homelessness & Ties To The Criminal Justice System – A Project by Connect Alloa, funded by Youth Scotland’. We believe that the figures are concerning and homelessness is an issue growing at an alarming rate in Clacks. As a charity promoting the voice of youth, we hope that this survey might help raise awareness and encourage further research on the topic. We believe that consideration and inclusion of public perceptions and youth opinion in policy implementation or research are vital. Lastly, we hope that our research is a small step towards finding a solution to the alarming issue of homelessness in Clacks.
To download the community report on ‘Homelessness and its ties to the criminal justice system’ click on the link below.