I had a good childhood. Growing up, I lived in a loving home with my parents and sister. I was a happy-go-lucky person - until the age of 13 when my life turned upside down. I found myself homeless, going to the local park to sleep but too petrified to close my eyes.
After starting secondary school I was bullied and then expelled, which caused problems with my parents. After numerous arguments, I was told to leave and ended up in that park. After a few nights of sofa-surfing with a friend, I returned home, only for all the problems to start again. I felt like I was living in a nightmare stuck on repeat for the next four years.
You face many challenges: finding a place to sleep; finding food and money for essentials; keeping up with your education; fighting loneliness. One of the biggest challenges that I don't think people always realise is finding the strength to stay positive and keep a smile on your face, when you feel lonely and isolated, with no one to turn to. Often it is difficult to know where to go to find the support that you need.
I turned into this sad, angry person with no confidence. It wasn't until I made my first attempt to end my own life at 16, that serious mental health issues were diagnosed. My local council referred me to a hostel run by the charity Centrepoint in Sunderland. I underwent a mental health assessment and was placed in hospital. I was in a very dark place. I yet again found myself with a bottle of vodka and four boxes of paracetamol. Two days later, I woke up in hospital again.
A year later, I was back at Centrepoint - but this time was different. My mental health was stable and I was focused on what I needed to do to get my life back on track. The staff were always there for me, even coming with me to appointments with estate agents when I was ready to move out. With the support of my key worker I finally found a place to call home. My time at Centrepoint also gave me the space away from my parents that I needed to help me rebuild my relationship with them.
Without Centrepoint, I don't know what kind of situation I would be in today. I don't want more young people to have to go through what I went through - but shockingly, as many as 25,000 are at risk of homelessness this Christmas. How will they stay warm and fed? What effect will it have on their mental health? Being alone at Christmas is such a traumatic experience. Without support, I fear more young people may turn to suicide to escape their suffering.
I am now 23, I have my own home and a job. Life is going well, and I have high hopes for the future. I want to go to university next year and become a mental health nurse. I volunteer for Centrepoint, delivering awareness sessions to young people and professionals, teaching them to spot the signs of homelessness and what to do if you or someone you know is at risk. People often stereotype rough sleepers - they think they're all violent alcoholics or drug addicts. The truth is, all it takes is one crisis at home and anyone could end up homeless.
Today, 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. The charity helps thousands of homeless young people every year, providing far more than a warm place to stay. They help with mental health, and finding work and a home. Without the public's support, their work could not go on. Please donate if you can: centrepoint.org.uk/safechristmasSuggest a correction