Princess presses case for caring approach to young homeless: Running away from family can be a 'courageous last resort'

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The Independent Online
SOCIETY must care for young homeless people 'as we would for our own children', the Princess of Wales said in London yesterday.

In her keynote speech to the Centrepoint conference at the Queen Elizabeth centre in Westminster, the Princess, patron of the homelessness charity, said: 'We need to listen to the needs of those young people; to offer them friendship and understanding as well as a safe place to live; to show them they do belong and that they are a part of us.'

Few of the young homeless in London had come to the city because they believed the streets were paved with gold, she said. 'I have been able to get to know some of these young people. Many of those I met were just 16 or 17 years old.

'The main reason they left home was to escape from the unhappiness of their previous lives: to find a safe space to go, where they are not known. To them, the only way out is to disappear . . . Not always in the hope of finding something better, but more often to escape from something far worse.

'Breaking free from their past pain, not knowing who to turn to for help and support, they run - run from one nightmare into another, leaving behind their friends and the remnants they have of belonging to a community.

'Whether they have left home because of sexual abuse, violence or simple neglect, leaving home is a desperate but often courageous last resort.'

The Princess said that the benefits of the Children Act 'are still too often failing to reach all of them, despite the dedicated work of so many. Young people today need to know, before they run, what choices they have. But how is it possible to make choices if no one has told you what they are?'

She warned of the fate awaiting the children who become long-term homeless. Some of those she met 'had lost their dreams. Any possibility they saw of pulling their lives back together was being destroyed by the struggle to survive from one day to the next. Many had fallen prey to prostitution, drugs, disease and despair - disappearing day by day into another statistic.'