The TV presenter said she was delighted the helpline could now start assisting young people, thanks to the generosity of readers and more than £2m raised through Centrepoint and The Independent’s homeless helpline appeal.
But she admitted she despaired at the continued existence of homelessness in developed, 21st century Britain.
“It’s shameful,” she said. “It shouldn’t be happening, not in a country like this. It really shouldn’t.”
The presenter, who is also urging people to leave money to Centrepoint in their will as part of the charity’s “Give homeless young people the chance to dream” legacy campaign, added that the need for action against youth homelessness was greater now than it had ever been.
Kelly said: “It would be wonderful if there were no need for [youth homelessness charity] Centrepoint, but sadly it’s needed more than ever, because times are tough.
“I wouldn’t like to be young now. It’s really hard. There aren’t the jobs there were before; there aren’t the opportunities there were before.
“They are there if you have a good education and a loving family to support you, but lots of kids don’t have that. They are escaping from dreadful situations at home. They never had those opportunities.”
Her comments come amid growing controversy about homelessness in Britain, and weeks after the Labour Party unveiled a plan to eradicate rough sleeping, arguing that the UK is “too decent and too well-off to put up with people sleeping on our streets”.
For its part, the Government has just announced £48m of funding to help local councils deliver services under the provisions of the Homelessness Reduction Bill. It said it has already invested £500m to tackle homelessness, including £40m for councils to help rough sleepers, and that homelessness amongst 16 to 24-year-olds has fallen by 17 per cent since 2010.
Centrepoint, however, has said its research suggests that for the past three years the true scale of youth homelessness in England has consistently been more than five times greater than that suggested by official Government statutory homelessness figures.
Kelly also warned against a creeping acceptance of homelessness.
She said: “Sometimes if you go for a night out in London, there are all these people, who are very well-heeled, going to the theatre – which is great. But then there’s the wee homeless person in a huddle and they are getting ignored.
“It’s almost been normalised, which is absolutely not the way it should be. It’s everybody’s problem. You lose your job, you have any sort of health issue be it physical or mental. It’s not unfeasible that one day that could be you – it could be your friend, your mum, your dad.”
She added: “To see anybody homeless is heartbreaking, but particularly with young people.
“Because, but for organisations like Centrepoint, where would they go? And once you are on that downward spiral … We are talking about people dying before they are supposed to. It can be that dreadful.
“There is a possibility of a downward spiral into drink and drugs. Young girls – and young boys – could fall into prostitution. All these terrible things could befall them. As a society we can’t let that happen.”
This, she said, was why the first nationwide young and homeless helpline, helping 16 to 25-year-olds with all the issues surrounding homelessness, was so important.
“It’s absolutely vital,” she said. “It could potentially be a lifesaver.”
She was, she added, delighted to announce that the helpline would take its first call on 13 February.
“It’s great to see it all coming together. A lot of people have been working very hard to make sure this happens – that it is going to help as many people as possible, get as many young people off the streets as we can, get them out of situations where they are feeling vulnerable and get their dignity back, make them proud of themselves, arm them with the education and skills they need: basic things that everybody is entitled to.”
Kelly, often dubbed “The Queen of Daytime TV” thanks to more than 30 years in broadcasting, added that she had been hugely impressed by the courage of the young homeless people helped by Centepoint.
“These kids are strong,” she said. “They just need a wee chance.”
One long-term way to help them, she suggested, was to leave some money for Centrepoint in your will.
By doing so, she said, you were seizing the opportunity to do something incredible with your money: helping to ensure projects like the Homeless Helpline continue to lift young people out of desperate situations long after the initial start-up funds have been spent.
“It could change lives,” said the TV presenter. “How often do we get the chance to do that?
“It doesn’t have to be loads of money. Every single fiver is going to make a difference.”
She had, she revealed, already left money to Centrepoint in her own will, doing so at about the same time she became an ambassador for the charity in 2016.
“I am not talking about millions of pounds, a giant legacy or anything. I’m just saying I’ve left something in order to help.
“If you are going to be an ambassador for a charity, you have to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.”
She had, she said, some simple advice for anyone hesitating about making the potentially morbid business of making a will: “It’s easy now. It took me half an hour, if that. So do it.
“Take a deep breath, get it sorted, then go and have a bloody good night out – do something life-affirming.”
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