Teenage Homelessness: My Luck in a Sea of Despair

When I became homeless at 16 years old, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Homelessness stories don’t usually start like that. Many people would describe it as the worst thing to ever happen to them. In some ways, it was for me also. I lost the siblings I cherished. I'd have to learn how to pay bills and take care of myself. I’d be living with strangers; some of whom had criminal records. Up until that point, I'd never knowingly met a criminal.

However, in the moment when I got the call to say I'd be moving into supported housing in two days time, I'd rather have lived with criminals than have my drunken mother nearly break my fingers. And, to be honest, although my new housemates made some bad choices, they weren't bad people at heart. Like me, they were just frustrated with how their lives were turning out and up until joining our house, had lacked positive guidance. They didn't know how to let those pent-up emotions out.

I was, and always have been, one of the lucky ones. When I was sofa-surfing, I was staying with older friends who rented tiny flats. Although they had very little, they were happy to share what little they had to protect me. I sometimes stayed with friends from school whose parents were worried about my safety. I’ll be forever grateful for the people that cared for me when my mum could not.

When I moved into supported housing for the first time, there were a few nights when I simply could not sleep, but I'd sit in the support office talking with the night staff. For the first time in my life, adults really listened to what I had to say and how I was feeling and were encouraging me instead of shooting me down.

This past Christmas was a tough time for me as I became reminded of my less-than-perfect family situation. Friends went home to see loving relatives, never worrying about being kicked out on a whim. Nonetheless, I still count myself as one of the lucky ones. I found love and support in other places. For many homeless young people, Christmas offers no such relief.

When I became homeless in 2012, I was one of 9,410 young adults forced into homelessness through domestic violence. However, this statistic only includes the homeless youth who are lucky enough to be prioritised for housing by their local authority. There are thousands of others left to fend for themselves on the streets or facing years of sofa-surfing. Due to government austerity, the beds available to homeless youths are very quickly declining, contributing to the stark rise in rough sleeping.

When I became homeless, Housing Benefits and Income Support for young people in education were available. Income Support paid for my living costs such as food, bills, college supplies and clothing. Housing Benefit paid for my rent, weekly counselling and other support. I was awarded Housing Benefit and Income Support due to the severity of my situation and the fact that I was fortunate enough to be in education. Supported housing is incredibly expensive and those not fortunate to be in severe enough situations do not get such help. One guy living in my house was considered "intentionally homeless" and, because of this, had to work 12-16 hours a day to make rent.

When the government ended certain benefits for 16-24 year olds, I was absolutely furious. To this day, I still don’t understand how the government could be so heartless towards Britain’s most vulnerable young people. Without the support I received, there would've been no chance of being where I am today, studying at a prestigious university; safe, secure and forever grateful.

I enjoyed this Christmas with my amazing partner. I survived when the odds were stacked against me. Others continue to struggle and I want to use my experience to highlight the huge issue of youth homelessness at a time that is particularly difficult given the bitter cold. ­We are in desperate need of governmental reform to conquer the issue of youth homelessness. So many people have been let down, while only the lucky few got back on their feet.

I believe everyone should have the same chances that I did and should be able to live somewhere safe and secure that will facilitate other opportunities like education. I wish I was able to give back more to those who support homeless youths than just a re-telling of my experience and hopefully one day I will. For now, I hope my story will inspire others who can afford it to help.

If you'd like to help homeless youth in your community, I recommend looking into local services that need volunteers or funding. Stacey Dooley’s The Young and Homeless talked about how people with spare rooms can host homeless teenagers to give them a stable, caring place to live. When I watched it, I cried knowing that a loving home could have been the difference between me fighting hard to survive for years and flourishing under the positive guidance of someone who chose to care for my wellbeing.