`We're not all alcoholics or looking for fun'

Glenda Cooper talks to one homeless teenager helped back on her feet who fears others will be denied the same chance
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The Independent Online
We're not all alcoholics, drug addicts or kids who leave home for fun," Aisha Hatukai said. "We're people who for very good reasons can't go back home."

Sitting in her immaculately clean room, part of a north London hostel run by the charity Centrepoint, Aisha may not look like a stereotypical homeless person. But she has not had a home for more than two years since she left as the result of an irreparable breakdown in relations with her parents.

After some months she exhausted her acquaintances and was reduced to sleeping rough: "I didn't care where I went, so I slept on the street," she said.

"I never knew what was coming round the corner. There was a pervert following me around and I began to feel that I would have no option but to go home - which was the last thing I could do."

She approached a housing project for help: "They turned round and said if you're a single girl, you've got to be pregnant or be willing to press charges for abuse to get a flat."

Eventually finding her way to Centrepoint, she was given a counsellor and accommodation first in the hostel and then in a flat owned by the charity. She was taught how to cook, to budget and prepare for interviews. As a result, she went back to college and got a NVQ in administration.

The Government's plans to make claims more difficult dismayed her.

"How are people going to get things to set up and live independently without getting their feet in the door? The Government wants people off benefits but they won't help them make the first step."

Aisha, who lives on pounds 36 a week, does not necessarily want more benefits: "Homeless people need support services, advice centres where they can get information. The people making decisions have got to realise we are individuals, not a mass of dossers, and stop trying to ignore us. These young people on the street are the new generation. They are going to be important in the next few years."

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