Aged 20, I was a typical young adult. I was living in a house share with flatmates, I had my first proper job and I was really enjoying it. Things were going pretty well.
I'd had to work hard to get there. Growing up, insecure housing was the norm. I didn't get along with my mum's partner so I moved into my Nan's. Then from the age of 13, I was in and out of hostels with my dad. Moving around a lot was difficult at times, but was it a relief knowing we always had somewhere to go. Then at 17, things began to get worse. I came out as gay, and my family could not accept my sexuality - it went against their beliefs. It meant I couldn't live with them anymore. From that time on, I was in and out of hostels and charities. So being able to stand on my own two feet at 20 felt pretty good.
But within the space of a couple of months, my entire world crashed around me. I fell in with a really bad crowd of people. I started misusing drugs and alcohol. I eventually lost my job and my flat. It was horrible. I felt so disappointed in myself. I had achieved so much, from such difficult circumstances, and I was on such a high that I took it for granted. When you have no support network, you can't take anything for granted - if things go wrong at work or with your housing situation, there is no safety net.
I found myself sofa-surfing. I faced all the typical struggles of a sofa-surfer: carting all my belongings around; constantly searching for the next place to stay; going from floor to sofa, spare bed to blow-up-mattress. Then there is the constant worry that you are being a nuisance and outstaying your welcome. You just know that people don't really want you in their house, and that's the worst feeling in the world - someone not wanting you to be there.
But that wasn't the worst part. Because I had no family or friends I could turn to for a bed for the night I was forced to use dating apps like Grindr to find a place to stay. I was meeting up with complete strangers every night. You can find yourself in really scary situations, in which people try to take advantage of you. I tried to protect myself by arranging to meet in a public place first of all, to make sure it wasn't a hoax. And I'd never stay in the same place for more than a couple of nights. At the time I was so desperate to find somewhere to stay that I put the thought of danger out of my mind - I just thought it had to be safer than sleeping on the streets. I don't even want to think about what could have happened during that time.
Eventually the council referred me to Centrepoint. When I found out I'd got a place there, I was over the moon. Their support was a lifeline. When I first arrived I thought it'd just be like any other hostel - that I'd just be given a room. But it's so much more than that. Centrepoint can support with any issue. I was helped with substance abuse, helped to develop the skills I'd need to find a job. They even helped me learn how to cook healthily. I was terrible before - I lived on takeaways. I'd never learned to cook. I found supermarkets intimidating because of the sheer amount of choice. But now I can cook - I love making stir fry.
I now have a better relationship with my family. Buy many more young people are being forced to make horrifying choices to avoid sleeping rough - committing crimes to access a police cell, hurting themselves for a bed in A&E or sleeping with strangers. That's why Centrepoint's work is so important. They provide so much more than a warm, safe place to stay - they help people to turn their lives around.Suggest a correction