What are you hoping for this Christmas? A puppy? A GoPro? A roof over your head, safe place to sleep and the guarantee of a hot meal come the 25th?
Official figures show the number of young people sleeping rough in England has risen by almost a third (29 per cent) between 2016 and 2017. In London there is more than double the number of young people aged 25 and under without a home.
This is creating an ever-widening gulf between young people’s experiences at Christmas, warn the UK’s young people’s homeless charity, Centrepoint.
For many people, Christmas is about family, parties and a time of giving. In fact, while eight in 10 of us expect to spend Christmas Day at a family home, thousands of vulnerable young people will find themselves isolated and alone.
For them, the season of goodwill isn’t about festive cheer. It’s about finding a safe and warm place to sleep.
With temperatures set to dip, and Britain bracing itself for what could be the coldest winter for a decade, the situation for young homeless people is bleak.
While 82 per cent of us will be spending Christmas Day at a family home, tucking into a roast or watching the Queen’s speech on telly, thousands of young people will find themselves in potentially unsafe situations.
In fact, over a quarter of homeless young people have stayed with a stranger because they had nowhere to live, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, and more likely to resort to drugs or alcohol to numb themselves to the hardships.
UNILAD took to the streets of Manchester to find out why so many young homeless people resort to Spice to pass the time:
But young people without a home aren’t just more vulnerable, physically. The holidays can take a toll emotionally, too.
Three quarters of 16 to 25-year-olds expect to feel loved, content or happy over the festive period. Despite common gripes about spending Christmas with weird extended family members and too many Brussels sprouts, happiness is almost a given for most of us as we clock off from work and head home for the holidays.
But 93 per cent of young people who sleep rough feel no one cares about them. Imagine a Christmas Day spent entirely alone, feeling unsafe and knowing you don’t have a home to go to.
That was the reality for Josh. He was made homeless on Christmas Day aged just 18.
Josh recalled Christmas 2016, saying:
I was admitted to hospital in chronic pain and diagnosed with sciatica. A relative visited and told me that, following a family argument the night before, I was no longer welcome at home.
I was discharged from hospital to the streets. I just had some clothes, my phone and my medication. I slept on a park bench.
After the worst Christmas you could imagine, Josh went to Centrepoint in Manchester where his key worker helped place him in supported accommodation. Josh described it as a ‘huge relief’.
Since, Josh has ‘learned to live independently’ and, having improved his own future, hopes to help other homeless young people find the right support.
Undeniably, the housing crisis, universal credit and the austerity measures of years gone by have left the situation looking bleak for a lot of young people suffering with abuse, relationship breakdowns, and other issues which cause them to become homeless.
Indeed, an online survey of over 2,000 UK adults commissioned by Centrepoint found 40 per cent had seen an increase in the number of young people sleeping rough in the past few years.
The charity also warns the majority of youth homelessness is not always visible, with as many as a quarter of vulnerable young people sofa-surfing.
Centrepoint CEO Seyi Obakin comments:
When you have no place to call home, finding a safe and warm place to spend the night can be a frightening and lonely experience.
Every night, thousands of young people risk their lives trying to find a place to sleep and it’s simply unacceptable. No one should have to make such decisions, especially when temperatures start to plummet.
With homelessness appearing more rife than ever before in our lifetimes, Centrepoint – the charity which supports 10,000 homeless young people a year – has shared some practical tips to help those in need this Christmas.
Refer them to the Centrepoint Helpline
If you know a young person who might be at risk of homelessness, then call the Centrepoint Helpline for free on 0808 800 0661 or pass on the number to them.
It’s available for any young person aged 16-25 and is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. You can also get in touch online.
If the person is over 25, you can report them to your local authority via this easy to use app, downloadable from Apple or Google, or by calling the 24-hour helpline on 0300 500 0914.
Be as detailed as possible about their appearance and location so the team has the best chance of finding the individual who needs help.
— Street_Link (@Tell_StreetLink) December 14, 2018
If it’s safe, ask them if they need anything
Deciding whether or not to give money or food is always a personal one.
Research shows that 93 per cent of young people who slept rough felt that no one cared about them, so a small act of kindness can make a big difference… Maybe a warm drink or a meal.
Even if you have nothing else to give, a friendly face and acknowledgement will always be welcome. If you feel someone’s health is at immediate risk, ring the emergency services.
Want to provide more long-term support? Centrepoint is urging people to donate this winter; just £18 could give a young homeless person a warm, safe room, hot meal and support in rebuilding their life.
If a monthly donation isn’t your bag, how about a one-off Christmas gift of a lifetime which could change a life? Centrepoint believes everyone should have someone at Christmas and is encouraging people to give ‘more than a gift this year’.
From a Christmas dinner for just a tenner or a present under the tree for £13 to a safe place to stay and a comfy bed for the night for just £35, giving a gift which lasts beyond Christmas Day could transform a vulnerable young person’s life forever.
You could even gift a young homeless person a room at Centrepoint for a whole year, as well as the support they need to move on from a life on the streets, for £144.
Even though Centrepoint resident, Lucy, doesn’t ‘expect too much from life or to ask for too much’ she said a small gift makes a huge difference:
I am going to be happy, even if I don’t have everything I always wished for. As long as I’ve got somewhere to be… a roof over my head, food for that day, and [I can] enjoy my time listening to music and learning, I will be happy.
The fact is, Christmas is a time when so many of us can take stock and be grateful for what we do have. And, as it’s the season of goodwill and really, really cold outside, it might be nice to share the love with someone who needs it most over the holidays.
If you have a story you want to tell, share it with UNILAD via [email protected]