If you are anything like me then public speaking isn’t always a straight toward business and the oratory perfection that you had planned in your head doesn’t always translate into the words that come out of your mouth.
10 days ago, standing on stage on the 10th floor of the KX building launching the campaign was no different. Maybe it was the biblical rain that we had all just dashed through. Maybe it was the change in season, with darkening nights and a drop in temperature. Maybe it was just the accumulated knowledge of my 16 months at New Horizon: the daily reminder that an ongoing housing crisis and cuts to services mean that young people here continue to find themselves homeless at a crucial point in their life. But as I stood up to tell the audience why we had decided to run the campaign – and with it get the Kings Cross Community involved in #DoDiscussDonate – my voice caught, emotion stopping my speech in its tracks.
I’d hoped to tell the story of a young woman, Sophie*, I had seen just a few days before. Sat at our table in the centre sketching and drawing you could easily have mistaken Sophie – aside from her presence in our day centre for young people experiencing homelessness – for a Central St Martins Student going about her day. But as we closed our doors that day at 4pm my colleague crossed the room with a sleeping bag, handing it to her before she headed out for the night to take her chance on the streets. We had been unable to find Sophie anywhere to stay that night. If you live or work here you might have walked past her oblivious to her story, if you knew her story you might, like me, have felt powerless to help.
Since the recession, the number of people sleeping on the streets has risen dramatically with an increase of 169% over the last 10 years and up an astonishing 25% in London last year. This part of the homelessness crisis is clear to everyone living here but beneath it lies a much bigger – and largely invisible – set of issues affecting young people struggling to get by. Every year, thousands of young people across the capital become homeless through no fault of their own and every year one thousand of them walk through our door. All too often their struggle to build a better life is lost in the daily battle of trying to find somewhere to sleep. And as numbers have grown, so too has everyone’s sense of frustration. People know that they haven’t created the issue but they also feel powerless to help. They can’t believe that there isn’t more that they - and indeed we all - can do to help.
So from October 1st through to World Homeless Day on October 10th, we partnered with and the thriving community of organisations in the area for the 10 Days to Take on Youth Homelessness campaign to raise awareness of and funds for youth homelessness in and around Kings Cross. I’m doing so we helped everyone see how they can be part of a solution and encouraged them to do just that - whether that was by doing something directly for young people, discussing the issue online or through workplaces or donating to the campaign.
For 10 days we’ve had blue tunnels, light displays and a whole haul of hoardings. We’ve had yoga, cooking and tinkering of test tubes. We’ve joined lunches, launched conferences and led school assemblies. We’ve tapped, we’ve texted and we’ve counted up towers of notes. We’ve even had over 450 people come and sing their support at the Massaoke finale on World Homeless Day.
Over 30 organisations have taken part. 57 young people took part in 8 workshops delivered by our takeover partners. Over 300 joined us to learn more about youth homelessness at discuss sessions. And when all was said and done the brilliant community of Kings Cross came together and helped us raise an incredible £35,000 and counting.
It’s now October 11th as I type this and the centre is open like any other day. New young people have walked through our door and I have no doubt more will come tomorrow and on Sunday. We didn’t end youth homelessness in the takeover and without wishing to spoil the surprise, we knew that we never would. How much has changed as a result of our campaign will take time to tell and it is Sophie and the community of young people we support at the centre that will have to be the ultimate judges of its success.
As the final day of the takeover got underway yesterday I saw Sophie in the centre, sat at the same table but this time without the artwork. She was off to a lunch event at the Story Garden ahead of an art-science workshop at the – our last two ‘Do’ activities of the campaign. It turns out the last 10 days have been life-changing for her as she now finds herself housed and a big step closer to work. It turns out that the person I had been so worried about on the 1st now had nothing to worry about.
They say that a day can make all the difference, but it seems that 10 days can really change a life. If you’re one of the hundreds of people of dozens of organisations that have joined our campaign then thank you for helping us change many more.
Chief Executive, New Horizon Youth Centre
*name changed for anonymity
If you want to get in touch or share your thoughts just use the hashtag #NHYC