13 Dec 18
The Scottish Sun
SAMMIE Cook pulls her sleeping bag up round her neck to hide her face as a group of men walk past drunkenly singing Christmas songs after their office party.
It’s something the 18-year-old has had to get used to since she became homeless seven years ago and moved into the dark and dirty North London underpass she now calls home.
The number of people aged 25 and under sleeping rough in London more than doubled from 2016 to 2017
She’s one of 103,000 young people who are homeless or sofa surfing in the UK – and the problem is getting worse.
The number of people aged 25 and under sleeping rough in London more than doubled from 2016 to 2017.
And this time of year is especially challenging: the weather is at its worst, the hours of daylight short, and the nation’s focus is on Christmas celebrations.
Like Sammie, Casey found herself homeless as a teen
If you’re homeless, living on benefits or begging for money, sleeping in an underpass and long-estranged from any family and friends, Christmas can be miserable.
Here, Sun Online speaks to four teenagers from around the country preparing to spend the festive season homeless and alone
‘It was live on the streets or get raped’
Young homeless people often leave home because of family breakdown or abuse, others have nowhere to go after leaving care.
That’s exactly what happened to 18-year-old Sammie Cook, who went into care in Birmingham when she was 13 after her single mum had a breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for long-term treatment.
At 16, Sammie moved into a hostel for homeless young people but was evicted a year later for chaotic behaviour including drug taking, and went to stay in the spare room of a man she met outside a pub.
That lasted two months – until he tried to rape Sammie, twice.
“I moved out that night and I’ve been living here ever since,’ she says, referring to the north London underpass she calls ‘home’.
Thousands of young people will spend Christmas on the streets this year
“I’m used to living on the streets,” she tells us.
“It’s what I know. I haven’t lived in a house for seven years now. I smoke dope which helps pass the time, and I sometimes have a laugh. I went down to Brighton for the summer and had a boyfriend there for a bit – it was good to have someone to be with. I do get lonely.”
No longer in touch with her mother, Sammie says Christmas means nothing to her.
“But the charities sometimes put on a turkey dinner and I love that, so I’ll probably get a good meal,” she says.
‘I got hooked on opiates at uni and ended up homeless – then tried to kill myself’
Nineteen year-old Thomas Collins is in similar circumstances.
He was at uni studying archaeology when he got hooked on opiates and his grandparents gave him an ultimatum.
“They basically said stop doing drugs or you’re out… but I couldn’t stop so they kicked me out. I was 18 and with a bad crowd.
“I don’t have a dad and I didn’t live with my mum.”
Thomas is now looking for a warehouse job and claiming benefits in the meantime.
Thomas is also living in temporary accommodation
He’s now living in temporary accommodation owned by the Sheffield youth homeless charity Roundabout.
“Coming here felt weird because I’d never lived on my own, but I’ve come off the drugs. It was very tough.
But Thomas’s story isn’t a happy one yet.
“I’ve tried to kill myself five times,” he admits.
“I had serious depression which went hand in hand with the drugs. I feel guilty about everything I’ve done in the past that I want to take back.”
Thomas has tried to kill himself five times
Thomas and his mum are in contact but not regularly: he didn’t see his family last Christmas, but has higher hopes for this one.
He and his girlfriend of two years, Holly, are in the process of securing a rental agreement on a flat and hope to be in it by Christmas. Thomas wants that to be the start of a new chapter.
“I want to go back to uni to do a paramedic degree so I can help people,” he says.
‘I clean to forget I’m homeless’
Christmas doesn’t have the same meaning for Casey Thompson as it does for the millions who enjoy a stable home and happy family life.
She may spend it with her Nan, but says she hasn’t given it much thought.
“I’ve only been in this hostel for three nights and everyone’s been nice but I was nervous about coming here,” she says in a whisper.
The 18 year old spent seven months sofa surfing and hope to have a well-paid job and flat of her own in the future
Casey spends her days scrubbing her tiny flat
“I used to live with my mum – my parents aren’t together – but we weren’t getting on, so I went to live with my nan.
“That didn’t work out though, so I left in April.
“Living like this can be isolating and lonely – you have to keep your mind occupied, so I do a lot of cleaning, listening to music and watching films,” she says.
She now lives in the same emergency housing as Thomas. Her fingers are red from scrubbing the walls of her £14-a-month hostel room ready for Christmas.
It’s a stark space with hardly any furniture – but for an 18-year-old girl who spent seven months sofa-surfing, it’s a precious place to call home.
‘People see you as the lowest of the low’
Josh Simmonite, 20, has just moved into a temporary hostel for homeless young people where he can stay for six months.
He’s grateful for a roof over his head right now – but has no idea what he’ll do at Christmas.
“I didn’t have a very good home life and got kicked out because I didn’t get on with my mum,” he says. “I came home one day when I was 17 to find all my stuff had been packed. That was my lowest point.
Josh says he feels like the lowest of the low
“I suffer with depression and anxiety and there are times when I feel very isolated. You see what other people have, what they’re making of their lives, the love and support they have, and that makes me feel down. The days can be very long, with nothing to do, nowhere to go, no structure,” says Josh.
“You never want to say you’re homeless, everyone wants to hang on to that last bit of self-respect, and people see you as the lowest of the low when you’re homeless.
“They see homelessness as something you bring on yourself, that it’s something you’ve done or you must be addicted to drugs or something but it’s not, it’s just circumstance, normally through breakdown in family life or following the wrong crowd.”
Josh is not without hope for his future, though. He has a mechanical engineering qualification and hopes to find a college placement or apprenticeship so he can become fully qualified.
“It’s good to have a roof over my head here and to know where I’m sleeping every night so I can try to move forward, get a job and get my life on track. I’d like a home of my own, a family life, my own life,” he says.
“If I lose this place I’ll be on the streets, so this is my last chance.”
One in five homeless women are sexually exploited
One of the problems facing homeless young people is that councils are facing a £10 million funding shortfall from government which limits the help they can offer.
Mike Thiedke, CEO of the Depaul UK homeless charity, says young people often look to the welfare system as a safety net when they can no longer stay with family.
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If it’s not an emergency requiring 999, get in touch with StreetLink through their website, app or by calling 0300 500 0914. StreetLink can inform local authorities and charities who look after the homeless, and will send out a representative, normally within 24 hours, to offer help.
Don’t rush to offer your cash – instead, you can help the homeless find somewhere to stay through the Shelter and HomelessLink websites. Keep them comfortable by buying a warm drink or meal, or ask directly if there’s any items they need like a hat or scarf to keep the cold out.
Volunteer your time with charities like St Mungo’s, Shelter and The Passage, which rely on people to provide medical care, food, warmth and someone to talk to for homeless people in need.
“But cuts, caps and freezes to housing benefit mean it’s getting harder for young people threatened by homelessness to find accommodation they can afford,” Mike says.
A survey of 526 young people in Depaul’s homelessness services found that 52 per cent have mental health problems; three out of ten young homeless people are physically assaulted and one in five young homeless women are sexually exploited.
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Seyi Obakin, CEO of the homeless charity Centrepoint, says; “For young homeless people Christmas can be bleak, scary, and sometimes life-threatening.
“While many of us are surrounded by friends and family, enjoying the festivities, it can be easy to forget that not everyone has the same support network or even a safe space to sleep.”