FORCED to sleep in cars or in bus shelters, rising numbers of young people are being made homeless as the cost-of-living crisis leads to family breakdown, the youth homelessness charity Depaul has said.
It estimates that 129,000 young people aged 16 to 25 are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Requests for its emergency accommodation are up nearly one third in the past year alone. A decade ago, the figure was about 80,000 young people (Feature, 19 October 2012).
The real figure of those homeless could be even higher, as shame leads people to try and hide the fact that they have nowhere to live, the charity says.
Jasmine (not her real name) was just weeks away from graduating from university in Newcastle, when problems at home meant that she had to sleep in her car, in the city centre, in the university car park. “At the time, I was working part-time, around 20 hours a week, studying for my finals, and had just been diagnosed with autism; but at no point was I ever going to miss those exams — I’d worked too hard to get to this point,” she said.
She said that she was “ashamed to admit that I had nowhere to go, nowhere to live”.
She was helped by Nightstop, run by Depaul, which provides emergency help for young people in crisis. Volunteer hosts offered her accommodation.
“When I left my host’s house,” Jasmine said, “I felt like nothing I could do would be good enough to thank them. I know they can’t accept anything for letting me stay, but I wish I could have given them something, because I was so grateful. Being such an independent person, I struggle when it comes to asking and accepting help, which was what they gave me so freely, no strings attached. They really are wonderful people.”
A Metropolitan Police inspector, Andy Briers, and his wife, Michelle, are Nightstop hosts, and have welcomed more than 80 people through their doors, most of them teenagers.
Mr Briers, a Christian, said: “Many people who volunteer for homeless charities will tell you that anyone can be affected by it, no matter what your background or education. It only takes someone to lose their job, or fall out with someone in their home, for them to be made homeless. For me, caring for some of the most vulnerable in society is an important part of what it means to be Christian, and so is putting others’ needs before my own. My wife and I have been blessed with so much, that we feel that it’s a privilege to be able to help young people in this way.”
He said that his own two sons had benefited from the experience. “My wife and I have always been aware that our two boys have grown up mostly wanting for nothing, so it’s been good for our boys to know that there are real problems in the world: it’s opened their minds quite a lot and helped to shape them.”
Depaul has launched an appeal to help to fund its Nightstop project. This year, requests for help from Nightstop are up almost one third on last year, when it provided 7522 safe nights for young people at risk of homelessness.
The executive director of operations at Depaul UK, Nicola Harwood, said: “We know that many young people who have nowhere to go, often because of family conflict, may accept an offer to stay with someone they’ve just met, or they’ll ride buses throughout the night, seek out 24-hour bars, only to find themselves among much older and sometimes predatory people.
“Nightstop provides emergency accommodation, and offers a lifeline to many young homeless people in crisis. We help those sleeping on the streets tonight, and ensure that others who have run out of options never have to sleep in unsafe places. It’s vital that young people know that they’re not alone, that this is temporary, and that they have their whole lives ahead of them.”