The Centrepoint Helpline launched today with Prince William joining Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Independent, in listening in to the first call – from a teenager who had found himself sleeping rough on the streets of London.
Clearly moved as the teenager outlined his plight to Centrepoint adviser Carys Lewis, the Prince later asked to be kept informed of the young man’s progress.
Thanks to such extraordinary generosity, the first nationwide helpline for 16 to 25-year-olds facing homelessness is now live and taking calls – in the hope that all young people will now at last get the help they need to stop them plunging into the downward spiral that homelessness can often cause.
The need for the helpline was graphically demonstrated by the first call to the freephone number on Monday morning.
The teenager admitted that he had already been robbed twice while sleeping rough. A breakdown in the relationship with his family meant it was no longer possible for him to return home.
Instead he had been forced to seek shelter in all-night cafes or sleep rough exposed to the recent freezing cold weather.
With the Prince listening, Ms Lewis advised the teenager on how to get into an emergency winter homelessness shelter. It wasn’t ideal, she told him, but it would at least get him off the streets.
During the 20-minute call, Ms Lewis made sure to tell the teenager about more long-term solutions open to him. She texted him the details of a day centre for young people, which she said, would be “able to help you with your housing, with benefits, with getting into work and with your health”.
The teenager also told Ms Lewis that he had already sought help from his local council – so far to no avail because he was deemed by officialdom to have “low support needs”, since he had not been in care and did not have mental health issues.
After the call ended, Ms Lewis explained to the Prince: “There’s only so much the council can do unless he has other [higher priority] needs.”
One of the key reasons for the creation of the new helpline has been to address a situation where, Centrepoint estimates, up to one in three young people are currently being turned away unaided by local councils in England when they seek help with homelessness.
Frontline Centrepoint workers have also described the helpline as something that will save lives and a “lifeline” that hasn’t come a moment too soon.
A clearly impressed Prince congratulated Ms Lewis, telling her that the way she had handled such a sensitive call had been “really good”.
He also stressed how important it was that the helpline workers would be able to provide a sympathetic voice for young people who might feel desperate and alone.
“If nothing else,” he told Ms Lewis, “You take the time to listen to them and tell them their options.”
Before leaving, he thanked staff for their “fantastic work” and asked to be updated on the teenager’s progress.
Earlier, the Prince had been greeted at the helpline headquarters by Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Independent and the London Evening Standard, who was able to inform him that our Homeless Helpline Appeal has raised £3.25m.
The Prince said he was very pleased, and congratulated Mr Lebedev “on a very successful campaign”.
The proprietor praised the generosity of those who had helped make the helpline a reality.
He said: “I’m delighted to be launching the Helpline with the Duke of Cambridge today.
“After all, it was his call to arms in November that spurred us on to launch the campaign. Youth homelessness is an unacceptable blight in modern Britain. The helpline will save lives, and rescue countless more from vulnerable and perilous situations.
“None of it would have been possible without the hard work of hundreds of people behind the scenes – Centrepoint, Evening Standard and Independent staff, as well as the thousands of readers who have given so generously, so I’d like to thank them.”
Seyi Obakin, chief executive of Centrepoint, said he was delighted the Prince, who is patron of the charity, had come in person to see the helpline launch.
Mr Obakin said: “It is a signal of how important he himself sees the helpline as being, and how much difference he thinks the helpline will make to young people. That’s why he personally wanted to be here to launch it.”
He added: “It is fantastic to see the helpline up and running and reaching out to young people.
“This is an important day, and not just for those who are [currently] homeless. Because homelessness is not that far away – it can happen to anyone – and what the helpline is going to do is give those who are homeless a lifeline.”
The success of the campaign has also been hailed by all three major political parties, with Prime Minister Theresa May telling The Independent: “The launch of the Helpline today is a big step forward in the fight against the scourge of homelessness. It’s the culmination of months of campaigning, fundraising and generosity on the part of so many people, including the readers of The Independent.
“With Government action and support from people across society, this helpline can make a real difference to those people teetering on the brink of rough sleeping.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The incredible response to this appeal shows people’s determination to make sure that homelessness has no place in a 21st century Britain.
“I’m pleased readers have donated in such numbers. Together, by standing up for each other like this we can rebuild and transform Britain so no one and no community is left behind.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron added: “Thanks to the generosity of those who’ve supported this appeal, many lives will be changed for the better. This helpline will be crucial for those who have been let down time and time again.”
Young people aged 16-25 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can phone the Centrepoint Helpline on 0808 800 0661