Speaking at a Kensington Palace fundraising gala for Centrepoint, the charity for homeless young people, the Duke of Cambridge said: “The scale of youth homelessness in this country is now shameful – it must not be ignored. As a society we have a clear duty to redouble our efforts, to do more to help.”
The Duke, who is Centrepoint’s patron, told an audience including celebrities such as the singer Ellie Goulding: “Each year in the UK 150,000 young people turn to their local council for help.
“This Christmas as many as 25,000 young people will be at risk of homelessness. And behind that appalling statistic is a human being, not much older than many of our children and grandchildren, who is alone, frightened and confronted with impossible choices.”
During his speech at Thursday’s ‘Centrepoint at the Palace’ gala, which aimed to raise £1.5 million, the Duke also thanked Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of The Independent, for “backing Centrepoint’s vision” of providing an advice helpline for young people on the verge of homelessness.
Praising Centrepoint for “consistently seeing beyond the label 'homeless'”, he said: “First and foremost, these young people are ordinary people – like our sons and daughters and friends.
“The same hopes, the same anxieties, sense of adventure and wanting to find their way in life – but life has dealt them a cruel hand: family breakdown, addiction, the wrong crowd, bullying, poor mental health.”
The evening, hosted by Centrepoint ambassador Jonathan Ross, saw guests entertained by performances from Ellie Goulding and British band Dirty Vegas.
The true stars of the night, however, were the nominees for the second annual Centrepoint Awards, which honour young people who have succeeded in turning their lives around after experiencing homelessness.
In his speech, Prince William described the evening as “A celebration of everything that young people are capable of when they are given the support they need.”
He added: “Whether fleeing war overseas, battling mental illness, enduring the dangers of sleeping on the streets, the young people of Centrepoint have come through experiences that could have broken the resolve of any one of us.”
As she prepared to meet the Duke of Cambridge, one award nominee, Comfort Orotayo, 23, from south London, revealed how six years ago, when she was 17, her “home” was sometimes a night bus.
Pushed towards homelessness by family breakdown, she sometimes had no option but to spend all night on a bus as it shuttled back and forth along its route.
“It seemed safer than sleeping in a doorway,” She told The Independent. “There was a roof, lighting and a driver. But it could be scary. Sometimes I would see fights kicking off between drunk people. And you didn’t know what tomorrow would be like. You kind of dreaded tomorrow.”
Taken in by friends, she was directed towards Centrepoint, and her life started to change.
During the 11 months she spent with Centrepoint, the charity – which produces positive outcomes for 90 per cent of the young people it works with - did much more than just find her permanent accommodation.
“They taught me the skills I needed to live life,” said Ms Orotayo. “Everything from healthy cooking to proper money management.”
Now working for the NHS as a clinical clerk, she was about to meet a prince as a potential award winner.
“I never thought that would happen when I was on the night bus!”
Praising the award nominees, Centrepoint chief executive Seyi Obakin said: “These young people will be beacons of hope for others. They are the ones who show that everyone has the chance to turn their life around.”
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