20 Mar Aff The Streets
Aff the Streets is the national youth steering group for issues regarding youth homelessness in Scotland, but what does that mean? When I was first asked to join Aff the Streets in March, I’ll admit, I didn’t have much of any idea of what the role would entail. I had done work on a local level regarding homelessness in the past, but the idea of bringing together young people from across Scotland to have a unified voice was something new to me. On top of this, there was the more daunting prospect of having to represent the views of so many people and be able to do them justice. Despite my trepidation, I was incredibly eager to get started on what I knew would be an amazing piece of work.
In my head, I began to put together ideas of what I wanted to achieve with this group and what I wanted to accomplish for young people across Scotland. For my own part, I wanted to make use of my experience with homelessness. Taking what had been a profoundly negative event and using the knowledge and understanding of the issues affecting young people to make sure that young people growing up in Scotland, now and in the future, wouldn’t have to go through the same turmoil that so many others have had to endure.
The group itself is intended to be an all-inclusive, safe space. One of the main issues, I felt, with consulting young people is that they so often feel obliged, or pressured into, sharing their own experience to justify their opinions on the very system that is supposed to be supporting them in moving on from this period of their lives. We are so often told that ‘Homelessness does not define us’, it is a temporary state, not a condemnation and not a label that will follow us for our whole lives. Why then, would a young person, coming forward to give their views, feel that they had to recount their story to a room full of strangers just to feel like they have a right to speak about issues that affect them every day?
Aff the Streets allows them the anonymity that they may desire, or need, in order to be able to speak openly, without the fear that they will be expected to stand up and recount their own story. In Aff the Streets, everyone is welcome, regardless of their background. Anyone is welcome to come and share their thoughts or just listen in, whether they’ve been homeless or at risk of homelessness, or even if they are just passionate about helping those who are. No one who attends needs share their own experiences, so everyone’s opinion is equally valid. Our biggest challenge so far has been ensuring that we are truly achieving our mandate of being a National steering group. It’s easy to see the issues in big cities like Glasgow or Edinburgh. However, reaching out to more rural parts of Scotland where young people may be facing different obstacles presents a whole new logistical challenge. So far, our response to this has been to try and communicate through email or social media, this has also proven useful for people in big cities who may not feel comfortable attending groups with people they don’t know. Our eventual goal is to be able to regularly travel to these areas to remove the burden on young people needing to go out of their way to have their voice heard.
Personally, I have always been very open about my own story. Over the years, I have come to realise that it has had a profound impact into shaping who I am today, it has given me the drive to want to use my experience to help others who may be going through the same turmoil that I once did. As representative for Aff the Streets, it has been my role to collate the views of young people who get in touch and illustrate these to the members of the A Way Home Scotland coalition and the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group as best as I can.
So what is Aff the Streets then? Well, with a bit of time, and the support of young people across the country, it’s a chance to have our voices heard, it’s the opportunity to shape the future of young people across Scotland for the better by making sure that they are having a say in the decisions being made and it is the first of many steps, towards creating a Scotland in which no young person ever has to experience the traumas of homelessness.