Why a London charity is telling London kids to sleep on the bus

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Westminster, London, England
Photo credit: Getty // Peter Lewis

City programs across the U.S. offer homeless residents a one-way bus ticket out of town—not out of the goodness of their hearts, but as a short-term solution to clear their streets. One charity in London is offering homeless people free bus tickets for an entirely different reason—so they can sleep.

New Horizon Youth Center works with young homeless people from ages 16-24 in London, but with more bodies than available beds, the organization regularly hands over bus tickets for young people to wait out the night.

"They are safer riding buses than on the streets," Shelagh O'Connor, the charity's director, toldThe Guardian. "We tell them which routes to choose, so that they will be travelling around all night. They come back in the morning and have some cereal and a shower."

Spending the night on public transportation isn't a new phenomenon. Those without a place to sleep in California's Silicon Valley spend the night on the so-called "Hotel 22," a bus line that runs 24 hours a day. The majority of the people sleeping on Hotel 22 are adult men, as opposed to the young people New Horizon Youth Center helps.

Some of these people are students. O'Connor recounted a story of a young woman who slept on the bus at night and then headed to class for exams during the day.

Five years ago, the organization didn't have to tell young people to rough it on the bus. An uptick in homelessness paired with fewer emergency-housing options for young people has left many with no place to go. The number of people living on the streets in London rose 17 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to the government's annual count. Across all of England, that figure has gone up 55 percent from 2010 to 2014.

The primary problem plaguing those living on London's streets is the same culprit in cities around the world: lack of affordable housing. Rent has reached an all-time high in London, with the average tenant handing over £1,500 (roughly $2,300) each month.

Amidst the rise in homelessness and rent prices, the British government has plans to cut housing funds for those between the ages of 18-21 under its "earn or learn" guidelines. Housing benefits will no longer be automatically available come 2017, as the 18-21 demographic will have to either prove that they are "vulnerable" or participate in rigorous skills or educational programs to receive benefits. Two out of eight housing organizations that New Horizon Youth Center relies on have already closed their doors to people under the age of 21, according to the Guardian.

"It is a dire situation. It has never been as bad as this; I am extremely worried," said O'Connor. "It is so difficult at the moment and I can't see any new strategies being put in place that might improve the situation."

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