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10 October 2018 | By Nicola Harwood Community

Tackling youth homelessness: Lessons from the sharing economy

To mark World Homeless Day, Nicola Harwood at Depaul UK explains how the charity is learning from the business world 

At the heart of the sharing economy is the necessity to trust others in your community with your assets. As a member of Sharing Economy UK, Nightstop is no different. Nightstop UK, a service led by youth homelessness charity Depaul UK, calls on the ultimate trusting relationship. For the past 30 years, we have asked volunteer hosts to open their homes to young people facing homelessness and provide a safe place to sleep for the night. 

The idea of Nightstop was born 31 years ago, in response to a need for communities to become more involved in finding the solution to end homelessness. It was a radical idea. Back then, concepts of opening your homes to strangers were not common place like they are today, and the sense of risk was high for homeowners, just as it is today. 

Nightstop thrives on its powerful network of individuals wanting to change people’s lives. There are 542 homes across the UK willing to open their door that evening to someone who needs it. We vet all our volunteers, and train them extensively on maintaining safe boundaries in the home, communicating house rules and what to do in an emergency. This core of committed and experienced volunteers meant that in 2017, Nightstop provided 11,070 nights of safety for young people who had nowhere else to go.  

Harnessing the sharing economy 

Despite being a well-established service in the sector, we are fiercely ambitious about where we want to go next. We have a number of businesses who already support our work through funding as well as through sharing of resource and leadership know-how. But, we want to collaborate more with a sector with such vast expertise and which we can learn so much from.  

We want to continue expanding the Nightstop network across the UK so that we can ensure wherever a young person is, they have a safe place to call home for the night. We also want to broaden the demographics of our volunteers in order to better meet the needs of the young people we support – just as businesses look to diversify their workforces to better meet the needs of their customers. 

We know through what we have learned from Sharing Economy UK that we have a nation of individuals who are more and more open to sharing their car, home, or other assets to stranger within their communities. We want to capitalise on that to see how the sharing economy can be used for social change through Nightstop too. We want to recruit more hosts, from more backgrounds. And we want to learn from other businesses who have used technology effectively to grow Nightstop without jeopardising what’s at the very heart of what we do – trust and empathy. 

We have begun this already by developing a new web platform that will enable hosts to log when they can host, but crucially when they are able to be contacted as a last-minute host. Predicting supply and demand for Nightstop is challenging – levels of youth homelessness can fluctuate or decrease on any given evening without much understanding as to why. 

This tool is currently being piloted and should help us ensure that hosts are available on the evenings when we most need them so that we don’t turn away young people due to lack of hosts. It’s an exciting change for us, and the start of our digital transformation, as we start to explore other ways we can use tech for good and tap into the growing sharing economy. 

This is all so relevant today, on World Homeless Day. Tonight, in the UK, we can expect as many as 370 young people to be sleeping in on the streets, and hundreds more will put themselves in danger. Our research shows that more than half of young people who stay in some form of informal, temporary living arrangement have will experience some form of harm, be it physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Nightstop aims to prevent that from happening and provides not only a shelter, but a warm home with a positive influence.  

Get in touch if you would like to find out more about Nightstop, and how you can support its mission to prevent any young person from ever sleeping in an unsafe place.  

Nicola.harwood@depaulcharity.org.uk  

www.nightstop.org.uk  

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