On our occasional shopping trips to our nearest town centre, there is one thing that can be guaranteed – that we will see homeless people bedded down in the doorways of empty shops or in the city’s subways.
More often than not, the incumbents of old sleeping bags and blankets are ignored by busy shoppers who just want to get their purchases and return home.
There’s something about having children yourself that opens your eyes to things you may previously have tried to ignore – the plight of the homeless and, in particular, homeless young people who find themselves cold, hungry and alone through no fault of their own.
My kids simply cannot understand how it can happen and just trying to explain it to them is difficult. Whilst we give what we can, it never feels enough and, often, giving directly to the person makes you even more aware of how ineffective this is as a way of solving their problem long-term. We see the problem, but we don’t always acknowledge the people.
Of course, we should give food, clothing, blankets. It is just common humanity but what lots of these youngsters really need is attention, kindness, conversation and the feeling that they have not been forgotten.
And our town is just the tip of the iceberg. This Christmas there will be 18,000 young people alone on the streets in the UK.
Everyone should have someone at Christmas
This November sees the launch of a new campaign from Centrepoint, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity called So Alone For Christmas – to raise awareness of the problem and to appeal to all of us who will have a comfortable warm Christmas to donate whatever we can to give a young person some hope this festive season.
Last Christmas Centrepoint helped 2,400 young people and the aim is to help even more this year by getting them off the streets into a place where they are cared for. Everyone should have someone at Christmas.
How do young people end up on the street?
But how do our young people find themselves out on the street?
It’s easier than you might think to end up homeless. Violence, abuse, mental health problems are key reasons, together with financial pressures and poor family relationships.
And it’s a vicious circle. No home or bed leads to mental and physical exhaustion. With no address, the chance of an education or finding full-time employment is seriously hampered.
Real life stories of youth homelessness at Christmas
You can imagine that all of this must be especially hard to bear at Christmas when the rest of the world seems to be celebrating, indulging and sharing special times with their friends and family.
You can read real-life stories from homeless young adults who have experienced a rough time at Christmas in Centrepoint’s recent blog post – “What’s it like to be young and homeless at Christmas?”.
For instance, Ben found himself on the streets following a terrible argument at home. He ended up in hospital on Christmas Day, desperately ill but had only one visit – from a family member who told him he couldn’t go home ever again.
Ben found himself sleeping rough on a park bench with just a blanket and his
medication, too ashamed to admit his situation until he found his way to Centrepoint.
Ben’s keyworker arranged for him to take part in tenancy training to help him prepare to live independently. He learned about practicalities like organising finances and paying bills.
Today Ben has settled into a place of his own and he is hoping to become an engineer.
As a parent, it takes no great leap of the imagination to see that such an experience for a youngster must be soul-destroying and the sense of abandonment and isolation overwhelming.
Many young people are much more likely to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts at this time of year because they’re so desperately lonely.
Whilst youth homelessness is a societal and political problem, this does not mean that we should not do everything we can do to ease the plight of young homeless people right now.
How you can help
Your donations can make a real difference. Did you know that Centrepoint supports 10,000 homeless young people each year and that 86% of these move on positively with their lives? They may go home again, get their first jobs or go to university. There IS a way out of youth homelessness.
£18 pays for a safe bed in Centrepoint supported housing
£50 could pay for the support of a Centrepoint keyworker
£144 could sponsor a room for a whole year.
You can donate by visiting the Centrepoint Christmas appeals page to discover how your donations can help the charity to support homeless youth in the UK. Don’t forget to add Giftaid to your donation if you are a UK taxpayer.
Alternatively, you can call 0800 472 57 98 or visit centrepoint.co.uk/xmas.
If you need help with homelessness, the Centrepoint Helpline offers advice about dealing with homelessness to young people in England between the ages of 16-25. They will also offer advice if someone you know is homeless. Their number is 0808 800 0661.
For advice on homeless in Wales, contact Shelter Cymru on 0345 075 5005.
Please give what you can to help make a homeless young person’s Christmas a time of hope, rather than despair.
It’s what I would want somebody to do for my children.