Up and down the country people are looking for ways to solve our homelessness crisis. On Facebook groups we share our heartbreak at what we see on the streets and try to think of ways that we can make a difference in such a huge and ongoing social crisis.
Through my work at Sounddelivery I met a mother supported by the charity Little Village; she had been evicted from her rental accommodation, leaving with a suitcase in one hand and her tiny baby in the other. I’ve met rough sleepers through the York Road Project who come in to their drop-in during the day for warmth, a shower and a meal. I met a girl called Sammy who used to sofa surf at friends’ houses, and who had slept in a cupboard beneath the stairs for want of anywhere better. Another young person, Lincoln, left work due to extreme stress and then, when his relationship ended, spent three months sleeping in a garage. He took me to see that garage for myself. Most of the people I have met who’ve experienced homelessness have, with the support of incredible charities working tirelessly on the frontline, been helped to move on to places of their own.
Alongside these charities there are many individuals who want to play a part in making things easier for people in crisis. When the problem is so big and the issues around homelessness so complex and seemingly impossible to tackle, where do you start?
For the last nine months I’ve been utilising my spare room to host young women aged between 16 and 25 who are experiencing homelessness. Nightstop, the organisation that I host with, offers emergency accommodation so that young people don’t have to spend the night on the streets and have a place of safety to come home to. All the women have been referred to the charity and have references. People experiencing more complex problems are referred to other agencies.
Some of the issues the young women I host have faced include family breakup, fleeing gang exploitation, evictions by landlords who want to sell up or put up the rent and even live-in landlords expecting sexual favours, poverty due to refugee status, political reasons for fleeing homes, using up the goodwill of friends after a period of sofa surfing. I’ve hosted a girl who used to walk the streets at night after her evening job, just so she didn’t have to go back to her family home.
I’m lucky that I am able to host. I grew up in a house where my parents had bed and breakfast guests when my siblings left home. I’m also an Airbnb host, to supplement my freelance income, so I’m used to having strangers come to stay.
By volunteering for Nightstop I have met incredible women who have hopes and dreams and ambitions. From being a doctor to going into journalism and even being a dentist, the young people I host have lofty career ambitions just like anyone else their age. I’m there to be a listening ear and to reassure my guests that Nightstop will support them to find a long-term solution, often by working in partnership with other charities.
I hosted D* last week, a 19-year-old student at college with the goal to be a doctor some day; it’s not the first time I’ve hosted D. When my guests leave I always say to them that I hope I don’t see them again - not in a bad way, but in a caring way. I hope that they get a place to call their own quickly, and don’t need Nightstop any longer. I have checked in with Nightstop on occasions to see how previous guests were doing. 17-year-old S* stayed with me a few times and was terrified of turning 18 and becoming an adult. I was thrilled to hear she had been placed in longer term accommodation and finally found a place to call her own.
I realise I can’t change the homeless crisis but I can play a small part in helping a young person at their time of need. I’ve learnt a huge amount from them and their different lives. I hope I’ve made them feel safe and helped them to understand that people do care. I haven’t had any complaints about my cooking yet. But I know that among my network I am lucky to have a spare room and I choose to use it in this way.
I hope that my experience with Nightstop might inspire you to volunteer your spare room, even just for one night a week. It’s a valuable way to help young people in crisis.
- To report a rough sleeper call 0300 500 0914 or visit Streetlink