A hostel for homeless families has been inundated with young single mothers because of the economic slump, according to the Simon Community NI.
Forty-six mothers — all single and largely unemployed, aged between 16 and 35 — have been accommodated at west Belfast’s Conway Court between April 2010 and March 2011.
The facility, which comprises 24 flats, currently accommodates 22 single mothers.
Just two have a job. The others look for work or attend training while their children are cared for in an in-house creche.
Nuala Dalcz, director of development at Simon Community NI, said it had seen a sharp rise in homeless young mothers.
“At the minute we are seeing a lot of young single mothers. I can say there’s a trend there, and it’s on the increase,” she said.
“It’s caused by relationship breakdown, people coming out of care without support in place for them.
“And then there’s the structural factors — like they cannot afford the accommodation that’s out there.”
Soaring youth unemployment is a major barrier. “The recession is definitely (having) an impact and young people are finding it harder to move on (from homeless hostels),” Ms Dalcz said.
Last month 19,150 under-25s were claiming benefits in Northern Ireland.
The under-25s now represent more than a quarter of all claimants here.
Virtually all (just over 97%) of 1,869 people aged between 18 and 35 who sought accommodation from Simon Community NI in 2010/11 were jobless.
During 2011/12, 700 new residents were put up in local Simon Community projects.
Nearly half of them (47%) were under the age of 25 — a 6% rise on the previous year.
In July rising demand from the young homeless prompted the Simon Community to open a 10-bed facility on Belfast’s Antrim Road.
Agencies like the Housing Executive are also feeling the pressure.
A total of 22% of people who presented as homeless to the Housing Executive in 2011/12 were aged between 16 and 25.
A spokesman for the Housing Executive said the agency recognises that homelessness among young people “is becoming an increasing concern”.
“This is reflected in both the numbers of those presenting as homeless and those found to be homeless,” he added.
In May the Housing Executive launched the Homelessness Strategy for Northern Ireland 2012- 2017, which aims to eliminate long-term homelessness and rough sleeping by 2020.
Ciaran Hannon, a 28-year-old artist from Belfast, has stayed in five or six hostels since he was 19.
He exhibited his work for the first time at this year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and plans to open a market stall. “When I first moved into a hostel a lot of people were there because of paramilitary intimidation. I would say drugs is a main factor now.”