Where I live and work in the North East, life for many is getting harder. Queues at foodbanks seem to get longer and longer. The number of households using loan sharks continues to rise. And more young people are struggling to find work. Latest figures from the Department for Education show the North East has the highest proportion of 16-24 year olds not in education, employment or training in England.
It is dangerously easy to get overwhelmed by how tough life is. For this reason, I just love it when I discover something very simple that enables me and others to make a real difference to the lives of people in our communities.
I first came across the Depaul Nightstop Scheme two or three years ago. What it does is very simple. It invites people with a spare bed to offer it for a night to a young person who needs it; a young person who might otherwise be on the street or sofa surfing in a place that was not safe. You provide an evening meal, a chance to talk or watch TV, a bed for the night and, in theory, breakfast. In practice, they rarely get up in time for it!
To my wife and I, it all seemed very simple. We had a spare bedroom. There were young people at risk on the streets at night. It seemed a bit silly not to link the two together and offer our spare room. For my wife, it was simply that she wanted to feel that if any of our children ran into difficulties there would be somebody who would be there for them. So, if she could be there for somebody else's son or daughter, it just made sense to do it.
Nightstop in the North East have made a video that I sometimes take to churches. One of the hosts on the video says that people tell him how brave he is to be a Nightstop host. His response is that it is the young people, not him, who are being brave by coming to the homes of complete strangers. There is an older single woman on the video who says that it had never even occurred to her to think being a host was risky. She just sees the positives. I can say Amen to both of those people.
For me, the richness of doing Nightstop is that I meet people whom I might otherwise never meet, whose experience of life is so different from my own.
The other night we had a young man to stay. Like many before him, something had gone wrong at home. He was like all of the young people we meet - a joy to have in our home - but we were worried that he was so kind he could so easily be taken in by anybody who appeared friendly...whatever their motives. This really underlines the importance of Nightstop being there to help keep young people like him safe.
Inevitably, we meet young people whose lives have not been straightforward for many years.
There was the young woman who had shared a flat with her sister. They had fallen out. Her mum had allowed her sister back home, but not her. There was the young man whose mum had died when he was six, and as soon as he reached 16 his dad decided to kick him out. Just before last Christmas, we had a lad whose mum's boyfriend had made life difficult for him and he was forced out. With Christmas approaching, he was just desperate to belong somewhere.
Nightstop is essentially an emergency service. The really good work is done by the local Depaul staff - who for my money are completely brilliant! They work with the young people during the day, often over weeks to help them on the way to permanent accommodation. It was wonderful to go to a Depaul gathering the other week and meet somebody who had stayed with us. She now had her own flat and had become a much more confident and settled person.
Depaul, who run Nightstop in the North East, have a slogan 'every young person deserves a safe place to sleep'. It's a bit hard to argue with that. And I suppose that is why I wander round the North East trying to find new hosts, and why Elisabeth and I go on hosting.
If you would like to sign up as a host family, visit http://www.depaulnightstopuk.org/ to find your local Nightstop. Alternatively, contact Depaul UK via Twitter and they will put you in touch with the right project: @DepaulNightstop