Homelessness and the Young in Britain


By our Home Affairs Correspondent, Dorothy Wells.

You know, we all do it. We’re walking along the street going about our business and see some chap, sitting huddled up from the cold, paper cup in hand and asking for change. And what do we do? We pretend we didn’t see and just walk on.

It’s all too easy to say to ourselves that they should just pull themselves together and get a job, but for many of them, that’s just impossible. They have issues that we would not even dream about or could ever imagine.

A homeless charity has this story to tell of one of their young people:

Clare O’Brien, 21, was thrown out of her house at the age of 15 with nothing to her name and only the clothes on her back. As her mother was usually away for work, Clare lived with her four brothers and sisters in her grandmother’s tiny, one-bedroom flat in London.

“Me and my grandma didn’t really get on. It was just too hard to live with her,” she says.

“We argued all the time,” said Clare. “The arguments could be from me not doing the washing up on time to even sillier things like not tying me hair up when I was in the kitchen Anything really.”

“One day I had a huge argument with her, and she just went mental and told me to get out. I was only wearing a cotton t-shirt and a pair of shorts and slippers. She literally dragged me out.”

Her story is not unusual. Violence, neglect and abuse are the main reasons why 16-25 year olds leave home, and a report by Centrepoint says that 38% of these young people are actually thrown out by their parents.

Clare slept in a playground shelter until she was discovered by a council employee, cold and scared. She was put in temporary accommodation but was moved on from place to place every couple of days, so she lost her part-time job and couldn’t go to college.

I personally knew one young man who became homeless. Mark, as I shall call him, was a bright and happy young man. His parents had split up when he was a teenager and he lived with foster parents until he was old enough to get a job and rent a small flat. He was engaged to be married, and all was going well for him.

Anyway, his fiancé tragically was killed in a car crash about a month before the wedding. Mark simply fell apart. He lost his job and couldn’t pay the rent, so he lost his flat too. I guess he could’ve got through all this with some support, but he didn’t ask – and didn’t get. The last time I saw him, he was sitting on a bench by Brighton Pier. He looked terrible so I sat and spoke with him for a while and gave him some money for some food and shelter for the night. I’m not rich, so that was about all I could do.

To cut a long story short, I contacted the priest at my local church and he went and found him he knew him from years back. The tale has a happy ending, though, as Mark has now pulled himself together and is getting his life back on track.

The reason I’m writing this is that behind every homeless person, young or old, there is a similar story. People don’t become homeless out of choice. Okay, so many of them are on drink or drugs, but there is a reason for that too. Let’s not judge them so harshly, and especially at this special time of year; we should all reach out the loving hand of Christian fellowship and try to understand and help these poor, unfortunate people.

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