This Christmas, Marie Claire has joined forces with Centrepoint to bring to light the homelessness crisis among young women.
Words by Emma Mason
Centrepoint’s most recent figures state that 23,000 16-24 year olds could be left without a home this festive season – with these numbers expected to rise well into the New Year. And for young homeless women, this can be particularly challenging.
In fact, in a survey the charity carried out last year, out of those interviewed 25% of young women were forced to sleep in a park, while 71% reported to be feeling unsafe in the living situation they were currently in.
This year has been monumentally difficult for everyone – with the pandemic forcing us to live in ways we never thought we would. But for young homeless people and those forced to live in temporary accommodation, this year has been like no other.
A critical lack of social housing – coupled with the end to the eviction ban and tight social restrictions making people less able to lend spare beds or sofas – has meant that Centrepoint’s helpline calls have increased every month since March. December is expected to be their busiest month yet.
But despite these challenges, Centrepoint is more committed than ever to tackling the issue of youth homelessness. Not only are the charity providing shelter for those that urgently need it, but they're also giving people the life skills and health support they need to get them back into education, training or employment.
This is a complex issue, but with Centrepoint’s support and guidance, young homeless people are getting the help they need.
Meet the faces behind the young homelessness crisis
Jamie was referred to Centrepoint when she was 16 years old, following her mother’s long battle with addiction. In that 6-year period, Jamie moved between houses sofa surfing, and at one point was forced to sleep on the street.
'I’d speak to some friends and I’d say what was going on at home and they’d be like ‘wow Jamie this is not normal’, and I think just having that concern there from other people was definitely important for me to keep reinforcing the fact that what I was going through at the time was not necessarily what everyone else was going through. Growing up, you just don’t know any different because you’re just born into your family and you just accept it for what it is. And I guess when you went through what I had gone through, you just kind of assume people just go through bad things; it’s just something that happens.'
Today Jamie now lives in a flat of her own and runs her own dance programme, ‘Moving Upwards’.
'Throughout that period of my life, I guess I went through a lot of highs and lows, but I always knew what I wanted to do –which is something that I think really helped me in terms of getting myself from A to B, and getting to the place where I can have a healthy sustainable lifestyle now.
'I have a master’s degree in stage performance, which is how I ended up creating ‘Moving Upwards’. I made it in 2018 and basically the masters course which I was on set up a perfect scenario for me to be able to create my own company and my own organisation and design what it would look like, and that for me meant being able to create accessible dance and healing exercises for vulnerable young people. And specifically people at Centrepoint, because I guess that’s where I’ve come from. I’m absolutely loving it – I’m here for the journey. All the hard bits and the good bits, and I just love the idea of creating something that can give young people skills to become successful.
'I always say my first go-to advice for young people is to find out what you’re interested in and get educated in it and you can learn a craft and become financially dependent on yourself.'
Shannon came to Centrepoint when she was 17 years old, having been placed in care from the age of 7. She is now studying for a degree in Fashion, with a long term goal of setting up a youth centre.
'Centrepoint gave me a lot of skills that I use now. Now that I am living in my own place I use them every single day, from paying my rent, to my service charge, to making sure I’ve got enough food in my house – these are just a few options they’ve given me.
'I definitely always considered going to university, but I never thought I was ready before – now I am in a better place it seems about right. After University I’m going to use my tools to hopefully start a company that allows disadvantaged young people to be creative in a safe and supportive environment, because I don’t feel like a lot of young people have safe places to be creative in any way they want.
'I think my advice for any young person who is struggling, is that they need to know that it is not going to be forever, they need to concentrate and put their head down and focus on who they want to be and work towards it no matter who says otherwise.'
Ffion, Helpline Advice Worker at Centrepoint
Ffion has worked at Centrepoint for nearly 3 years, giving telephone advice to young people across the UK who are facing homelessness.
'In the last 9 months or so, at the end of the month we have said that it was the busiest ever month. And particularly during lockdown we have all struggled with taking on people’s sense of hopelessness. Even though our job is to empower and inform young people, if someone is feeling really desperate you can take that on. But this year is really different. This time last year we would have been really excited about the winter night shelter opening, but they haven’t managed to do it this year. So a big challenge is not being able to easily signpost someone to where they can get accommodation.
'You might not think of a young person being homeless if they are sofa surfing, but since the first lockdown people are being more cautious – that’s why are calls have increased. All those people that were maybe falling through the gaps before were all of a sudden ejected out onto the street, or ejected into really uncertain circumstances.
'But we always hear positive stories of people who came in under the age of 18 because of problems at home, and through living at Centrepoint after a few years they are ready to move on and maybe go to University. Lots of opportunities have opened up to them. But homelessness and the situation young people are in is always going to be there. It doesn’t seem like much to donate a nice dinner to someone this Christmas, but for people who haven’t had that, it really means a lot to the young people in the services.'
What can we do to help Centrepoint this Christmas?
This festive season, there are three key ways in which we can all help young homeless people through Centrepoint.
The charity's Alternative Christmas Banquet, Selfless Santa, or Give a Life-Changing Gift to a Homeless Young Person campaigns – all of which encourage virtual donations via their website – will help vulnerable people at a time when they need it most. These gifts range from a £10 Christmas dinner, to a £1500 New Year New Start box, and you can donate here.
All the money given to Centrepoint will be used to fund their crucial work with young homeless people.
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