Case Study: 'What a difference it is with something to do'

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The Independent Online
"You can't imagine what it's like to get up with something to look forward to . . ."

A broad grin sweeps across Harold Stevenson's face. "My life has really turned around. I've finally got something to look forward to," he said.

The 23-year-old is one of the Gateway Project's success stories. In 1992, he became homeless and went from hostel to hostel. It seemed unlikely he would ever work. "You can't really get a job unless you have a home. Employers just won't look at you."

Six months on from joining the project Mr Stevenson is working full-time as a courier, having found the job himself. "You can't imagine what a difference it makes to get up in the morning with something to do, something to look forward to. And even really simple things like being able to go shopping at weekends and being able to afford to buy stuff," he said.

The Gateway Project, started in 1993, is one of 36 foyer projects around the country. Financed by industry and charity, the south London centre provides accommodation and training for young homeless people aged 18 to 25. It aims to train them for a career while giving them life skills, vocational advice and IT training. Most people stay nine to 18 months.

Out of 116 people that the centre holds, 100 of the last year's intake have jobs now as sales assistants, secretaries, accountants and even a couple of actors. "We help them improve their position in a competitive market force," Debbie Scott, the trust's director, said. "There's a Catch 22 situation: no home no job, no job no home. But we can get them out of that vicious circle."

"The young people grow in stature. They mature. We give them confidence that they've never been given before. If you tell someone they can't do something for long enough they will believe in it. It's often the first time someone's bothered about them. We are about people believing in people. It makes such a difference," she added.

The difference is clear in 22-year-old Shakira Lawal's life. She was in the centre yesterday preparing to look for temporary work as a clerical assistant until September. That is when she will return to college to complete a BTEC in the hope of applying to do sociology and philosophy at university the following year. "It's all about choice," she said.

"I can choose to go to university now. I can have a well-paid job. Not bad for someone who was homeless two years ago."