The stories that show how important the Homeless Helpline will be

On February 13, the Centrepoint Young and Homeless Helpline will launch, providing assistance to 16 to 25-year-olds facing homelessness.  Here, two people who know what it is like to be young and homeless share their stories, and explain why the Homeless Helpline Appeal is so important.

Matt Watts,Ed Cumming
Tuesday 31 January 2017 16:58
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Centrepoint has helped Dale Taylor-Gentles, seen here with the charity's patron Prince William, get from homelessness to university
Centrepoint has helped Dale Taylor-Gentles, seen here with the charity's patron Prince William, get from homelessness to university

Centrepoint - and Grandma - helped me realise my dream of being one of the first in my family to go to university

Dale Taylor-Gentles with his Grandma Bernice 

When Dale Taylor-Gentles became homeless at 16, his dream of going to university seemed over.

A breakdown in his relationship with his mother meant he had lived with his elderly grandmother Bernice in south London since he was 12 – acting as her primary carer when she had a stroke and developed dementia.

But her condition worsened and she had to go into a care home in 2014. At the age of 16 Dale couldn’t return to live with his mother, so he ended up homeless and “sofa-surfing”, staying with friends and other relatives.

“It was a scary time,” he said.” I didn’t know where I was going to spend the next night and if I was going to be able to make it to college the next day. I wanted to focus on my education, but that was suffering.”

Dale was eventually placed in Centrepoint accommodation in south London. They gave him a mentor who helped him keep on track with his studies and university application.

He passed his A-levels with the grades to get him an unconditional offer at the University of East London, where, now aged 19, he is in his first year studying for a degree in sociology and criminology.

During his time with the charity, he also chaired the Centrepoint Parliament, lobbying Government on youth homelessness issues, including mental health, and being congratulated on his work by both Prime Minister Theresa May and Centrepoint’s patron, Prince William. He hopes to work in counter-terrorism and national security after graduating.

He said it was “incredible” that the Centrepoint Young and Homeless Helpline was about to launch. It would, he said, be a lifeline to the thousands of young people who, according to Centrepoint, are being turned away by English councils each year with little or no support.

“When I first looked for help from my local council,” said Dale, “They didn’t believe me and said I needed to go home to my mother.

“I had to have the strength to keep going back for help - some people might not have that strength, so the advice and support the helpline will give them will be vital.

“I’m grateful to everyone who has donated or who will still donate to the appeal as they have helped fund services that I know can transform lives.”

And he thanks his grandmother, whom he still visits regularly, as well as Centrepoint, for helping him realise his dream of being one of the first people in his family to go to University:

“She has always told me the importance of studying, of making sure I got a degree. That’s what has driven me along, as well as the support of Centrepoint.”

It got to the point where I thought drug dealing was going to be my only option​

Darrell Austin

When Darrell Austin gives his professional advice, you can trust him.

The 41-year-old is now a housing officer for Centrepoint, helping young people navigate the difficulties of the housing system. Having found himself homeless as a young man, its a world he knows from every angle.

He is convinced that the new Young and Homeless Helpline, for which The Independent has been raising money over the past three months, is absolutely vital for helping young people like him escape the vicious cycle of homelessness.

“It’s imperative,” he says. “It’s the only thing that Centrepoint is missing.”

The free Helpline, which launches on February 13th, will provide a single point of information on everything from housing to interview technique and housekeeping advice. For those aged 16-25 who find themselves with nowhere to turn, it could be the difference between a successful life and one that falls between the cracks.

“If you go to the council and say you’re homeless at 16 or 17, the first thing they’ll do is tell you to go home and try to repair the relationships,” Darrell says. “That might work for a minority, but for the majority that’s where everything starts to go wrong.”

Darrell’s own childhood ran into difficulties before he was a teenager. He grew up in Fulham, south-west London, with his mum and his two younger sisters. The three children shared a bedroom and their mother’s boyfriends, Darrell says, “were not ideal role models.”

Aged 12, he was sent to a boarding school near Milton Keynes for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

“It saved me, to be honest,” he says. “Most of the kids I grew up with are serving long prison sentences. People think of Fulham as it is now, but it was nothing like that 25 years ago. There was drug-dealing, aggravated burglary. It would have been easy for me to go down that road.”

Nonetheless his temper remained, and he was “asked to leave” the boarding school at 15, before he sat his exams.

Things came to a head.

“It got to the point where I didn’t want to give my mum the choice of ‘me or him’, so I left,” he says. Years of sofa surfing followed, sometimes with other family members, sometimes with friends, while he tried to build a life. He began a Youth Training Skills [YTS] course to be a chef, but the £35 per week pay was impossible to live on.

Hostels would tell him he wasn’t desperate enough, or not a high enough risk. He needed an operation on his hip, and worried that he would have nowhere to convalesce.

“Just as I thought drug dealing - which only ends up in prison or death - was going to be my only option, I met a friend who said he was in a hostel in west London. I went down there.”

From there he found his way into a succession of temporary forms of accommodation - first alone and then with his wife and children. He also stumbled into youth work, and discovered a talent for it. He has been at Centrepoint for 18 months now, and is passionate about the difference it makes.

“It’s ridiculous how many young people are homeless and can’t get access to the housing system. People think homelessness is just someone sleeping on a doorstep shaking a cup, but there’s so much more than that.”

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