Over 121,000 young people experienced, or were at risk of homelessness at the start of 2020, which is an increase of 10% when compared to 2019.
Over the pandemic the situation has worsened – calls to homeless support helplines have risen by 50% while mental health support has decreased. To help combat this wider issue, the Health Fund has been set up by End Youth Homelessness – a UK-wide movement of local charities tackling youth homelessness, that The Body Shop is the founding funder of.
When Jamie Hurley became homeless at the age of 16, she could either choose between independent living or foster care. Anxious about who she might be paired with, she chose independent living – something that she now believes she was too young for, as she tells Metro.co.uk. Her story is proof of a failing system and how charities and vulnerable individuals have been forced to pick up the pieces.
Jamie’s experience ends positively – but this won’t be the case for everyone. Her homelessness story began when she was speaking to a counsellor (first assigned to her to help with an eating disorder). She said: “It just kind of come up that things weren’t so great at home, and I didn’t realise – I thought I was just speaking to them candidly, but because of that conversation they had a duty of care to contact social services. After that day I had my own social worker. Things progressively got worse in my home situation and at 16, a year later, I ended up moving into Centrepoint.”
Centrepoint is a charity, part of End Youth Homelessness, supporting homeless young people specifically. Speaking on independent living, Jamie calls the situation ‘kind of nuts’. “Being only 16 I think is a bit too young to go into that kind of living arrangement. But just the way that the government laws are set up, you are old enough to live on your own and take care of finances, take care of your mental and physical health, to live as an adult freely. I went straight from being at home in my own bed one night, the next night being in a room in a hostel.”
Understandably, this was a ‘scary’ experience, especially as the hostel space was shared among different genders so Jamie had close contact with older boys and men who were also displaced. Without going into detail, she admitted ‘many’ things happened in that environment she wasn’t comfortable with. “You don’t have time to think – you just feel,” she says, adding that she felt ‘powerless’. Overall, Jamie moved in and out of Centrepoint four times and believes their support is invaluable, along with the provided mental health services.
One of her attempts to find a home, at the time aged 18, involved living in a grotty and unfit-for-living bedsit with an ex-boyfriend and family member. “We were in this bedsit and it was ridden with mice and we all got scabies,” Jamie says. Around a year later the three of them were evicted, and Jamie was once again homeless.
At 19 things started to change after a therapist at a hostel got her proactively thinking about the future. “There was this one therapist at the hostel and I did weekly sessions with him and we sat down one week when I just wasn’t feeling so great and we spoke about how I saw my life five years in the future. So we did like a manifestation therapy [exercise] and it was the first person I met that I felt really positively influenced my life and that made me feel like calm and that I could actually do something, and that actually believed in me. That was a big factor in me just not letting my whole youth spiral out of control. Looking back now I could have really easily continued going down a certain path and gone a really negative direction.”
In the session, she pinpointed her love of dancing and decided to focus on building a career in the industry, as well as going to university, finding a home of her own, having stable friendships and working on her eating disorder. “By the time I’d reached 24 I’d done all of that,” she says, adding that she even went on to do a Masters degree. Living now in a part Housing Association, part council rented property, she’s able to work on the dance and healing workshop programme she facilitates for young people. She is still in therapy ‘to dismantle’ some of her believes around her family situation, sharing that: “I felt a lot of guilt about leaving my mum and not feeling good enough. I felt [leaving] was something that I had to do.”
With the right support and charities to help young people facing homelessness, Jamie was able to build a life for herself that she’s happy with. Her advice to other young people, regardless of their circumstances: “Make yourself the project your work on.”