22k young people are facing homelessness, so I've opened up my spare bedroom
For the last 18 months I’ve been using my spare room to host young women aged 16 to 25 who have nowhere else to go.
Nightstop, the project I volunteer with, provides same-night, emergency accommodation, placing young people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness, in the homes of trained and vetted volunteer hosts.
More than 100,000 young people are under threat of homelessness each year and Centrepoint estimates that 22,000 young people are at risk of being homeless this Christmas.
Some of the issues the young people I have hosted face include family breakup, fleeing gang exploitation, evictions by landlords, or live-in landlords expecting sexual favours in exchange for rent.
I will always remember my youngest guest. She was 17 and absolutely terrified of becoming an adult as she felt there wouldn’t be the services to support her.
Her mum remarried and had a new child. Her dad wasn’t around and she felt she didn’t belong.
I’ve hosted a girl who used to walk the streets at night after her evening job just so she didn’t have to go back to her chaotic family home. I’ve met a mother evicted from her rental accommodation, leaving with a suitcase in one hand having initially fled domestic violence.
Very few people I know have a spare room, particularly in London and not everyone would feel comfortable doing it, but I grew up in a bed and breakfast so I was used to sharing my kitchen table with different people.
I’m there to listen. They have to trust me quickly, but I’m there to make them feel at ease. Often they’re really tired and just want to go to sleep, but others who stay for a few days can feel a bit more comfortable.
When the problem is so big and the issues so complex, where do you start?
I can’t take away someone’s situation but I can make sure that when they are with me they feel warmth and support.
One of my guests stayed with me on her birthday, so I told her she could eat and watch whatever she wanted. We ordered pizza and watched Netflix. We had a great night.
I have been asked on many occasions whether I feel nervous about hosting young people. The truthful answer is no – at no point have I felt unsafe. Far from it.
Before a young person is placed with me, the charity carry out risk-assessment and run references on them. Of course, I’ve been checked out too.
Hosting has made me more aware of youth homelessness. There is public awareness about rough sleepers, including the images we see on the news, but these aren’t the young people I see.
They could be anyone. They are often the same age as my nephews and it breaks my heart. They have hopes and wonderful career ambitions just like anyone else their age.
Very few people I know have a spare room, particularly in London and not everyone would feel comfortable doing it, but I grew up in a bed and breakfast so I was used to sharing my kitchen table with different people. It often feels no different to letting out your room on AirBnB.
I am looking forward to welcoming someone into my house this Christmas. As a Jewish host I don’t celebrate, but I understand that it can be a very difficult time for people who don’t have anywhere else to go so I will be thinking about how I can bring the festive cheer.
By making a difference to them for this one day, I hope I can change their lives for the better. I hope I am the safety net that will stop them falling further into homelessness.
Nightstop – supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery – is run by Depaul UK, the youth homelessness charity. To find out more about volunteering, visit: nightstop.org.uk Jude Habib is a Nightstop host and runs sounddelivery, a storytelling company working with charities.
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