Campaign film highlights plight of young homeless people and urgent need to raise emergency accommodation standards


A new film launches today to highlight the plight of young homeless people living in poor quality emergency accommodation. The film is part of a campaign, enabled by support from the RIBA Research Fund, for the introduction of design standards to raise the bar in emergency accommodation for young people; a neglected and unregulated area of housing provision.

The film and campaign launch at a time when youth homelessness has increased rapidly due to Covid-19 and many rough sleepers return to the streets as short-term housing initiatives formed during the height of the pandemic end. As experts predict a further sharp rise in homelessness in the coming winter months, the campaign calls for longer-term solutions to the homelessness crisis, emphasising how investment in good design can benefit young people and local communities and economies alike.

The campaign is spearheaded by a group of architects experienced in this field: Miranda MacLaren, Director at Morris + Company; Polina Pencheva, Associate at Morris + Company; and Heather Macey, Associate Director at John McAslan and Partners. These individuals have been awarded a RIBA Research Fund award towards the development of this project. The film ‘We are not bad kids’ is publicly accessible via the RIBA website, and is accompanied by three core documents: the campaign Manifesto, Leading by Example, which includes analysis and best-practice case studies, and finally We Recommend, a set of guidelines for emergency housing for young people.

The campaign group is urgently calling for local authorities to adopt the recommendations, including asking the GLA to do so in the new draft of the London Plan, which currently includes a raft of qualitative design guidelines for traditional forms of housing, but no guidelines for emergency accommodation. Furthermore, no mention is made of the specific needs of young people. As a result of this policy gap young people who find themselves without a home are often left living in unsuitable and sometimes hostile emergency accommodation for weeks, often months.

The film, ‘We are not bad kids’, presents polarities in experiences of young people growing up in supported and unsupported accommodations. It highlights that this is an issue about young people’s formative life experiences, and the sense of safety, security and stability the right accommodation can provide, and the imprint left when there is an absence of support. It has been made by independent film production company Odelay Films, with the help and co-operation of organisations working with homeless young people: New Horizon Youth Centre, Depaul, and Shelter from the Storm.

By adopting these design recommendations, local boroughs could procure important purpose-built emergency housing projects more efficiently and effectively, displacing fewer young people from their neighbourhood, local school, and support networks, and reducing the number of substandard conversions of inadequate existing buildings. In these settings all homeless groups are frequently co-located, often with no privacy between them.

The recommendations give careful consideration to quality and space standards to create safe, secure and dignified accommodation. These are underpinned by research presented in the Leading by Example document, which features a series of case studies, as well as conversations with designers, charities, local and central authorities, private sector developers, social workers, and also people who have experienced homelessness or are currently living in shelters. These recommendations outline a journey from the communal front door to private rooms, and include designs for entrances, staff support spaces, as well as social and learning spaces. They also focus on qualitative aspects, such as the quality of light and views, room proportions and materials, all of which make a huge difference to procuring well-designed emergency accommodation, and will ensure vulnerable young people are given a much more solid foundation on which to build their lives moving forward.

Miranda MacLaren, Polina Pencheva, and Heather Macey commented: “We were shocked at the limited and poor-quality guidance for homeless shelters, and specifically, how there is nothing tailored for the needs of young people. Now we are in our second lockdown rough sleeping for young people is on the rise and is at an all-time high, there has never been a more important time than now to rectify this. We urge every local authority in the country to adopt our recommendations to ensure that young people get they support the need so they can be off the streets for good.”