Homeless Helpline pilot volunteer hails 'massive role' project will play in helping vulnerable young people

Carys Lewis says the demand will be huge if the programme becomes operational

Matt Watts
Tuesday 27 December 2016 01:00
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Carys Lewis has been working with two other Centrepoint staff on a trial of the helpline
Carys Lewis has been working with two other Centrepoint staff on a trial of the helpline

A worker on a pilot for the Young and Homeless Helpline today told The Independent how the service will transform lives.

Carys Lewis has been working with two other Centrepoint staff on a trial of the helpline.

The 36-year-old will be part of the team which launches the helpline if sufficient funds are raised through The Independent's Christmas appeal to launch the freephone, online and text service.

She said: “We have been running a service which has not been advertised – it’s just from people who heard about Centrepoint and need support, and there are already a lot of calls. If it becomes fully operational I know the demand will be huge. It’s going to play a massive role.”

The Independent is raising money to help charity Centrepoint launch the first national advice and support helpline for people aged between 16 and 25 facing homelessness or already homeless.

It will fill a void in housing support for growing numbers of young people facing homelessness – and help them with wider issues including mental health, addiction and family breakdown.

More than 150,000 young people facing homelessness seek housing support from local authorities each year – but up to a third are turned away with no help or advice.

Ms Lewis, who has 14 years of experience of working with young homeless people, said currently homeless support services lacked a focal point where people could go as a first point of call.

Among those getting in contact are young people whose relationships have broken down with their parents or relatives and they can’t stay at home. They might be fleeing violence or abuse.

They could be young people fleeing the threat of gang violence, or young people leaving care.

Experts on the helpline will be able to signpost the best services for young people and how to access them.

She said: “It’s finally a proper first point of contact for people regardless of where they live.

“We try and tailor-make the information we give to each young person. We really listen to each case, give them time to be heard. Some have been to the local authority and been turned away, even when they are really vulnerable.

“They have gone to their local council and despite being vulnerable have not got the right help. The local authority have nowhere to house people and are really overstretched. It means there are really vulnerable people who are missing out.

“That’s where we will come in as a safety net and make sure they get in contact with the right people and youth centres and get the right legal help so they can make sure they look down every avenue for them.”

She said they were regularly given poor, out-of-date or no information by local authorities.

“People are just told we can’t help you and they often give a list of places to try, but often they are out of date or have been closed down for years,” she said.

She said for vulnerable young people seeking help their first experience was crucial – and those who feel rejected will never seek help again.

“We give real advice, only advice that will help. Often people feel like that first point of contact at the housing office or elsewhere that they can’t be helped so they disappear, never seek help again and are on the street.

“People are turned away and suffer a really demoralising and frustrating experience, they then give up. They end up on a downward spiral, they think there is no one to help so they think ‘oh I’ll just do this to survive’ – they might offend or take drugs.

“It’s really tough in London. The housing crisis is such that there aren’t many options.

“There are people who are really vulnerable who are being turned away from local authorities.

“They may have been excluded from a lot of different housing services already, or maybe they have been in care. Some people aren’t priority need but they are still really vulnerable. This helpline will be a lifeline for them.”

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