It is Christmas Day on Wednesday but by the looks of the empty train seats this morning, the holidays have already begun for a lot of Londoners.
Against a backdrop of incessant politics in recent months, it feels like Christmas has snuck up on us this year, the general election and fallout from the surprise result taking up many of the headlines that would often get more readily filled by the shocking - and sadly less surprising – news about growing levels of homelessness.
At New Horizon Youth Centre there is no breaking up for Christmas. Our day centre will be open throughout the break, right up to the New Year for any young person who finds themselves without somewhere to call home at this time of year. It is our busiest time of year with new young people arriving every morning, donations being delivered every day and the team working hard to ensure that everyone has somewhere that they can sleep at night. As we approach the end of the year, we all know how harsh the weather can become but after weeks of relatively mild – but very rainy – weather it finally feels like a cold snap is coming. So imagine my surprise to arrive at the centre this morning and find someone tucked behind the wall of our forecourt, wrapped in two sleeping bags attempting to get some rest. Even for someone like me who is around young people who are experiencing homelessness all the time, sights like this can be a harsh reminder of how much further we have to go before centre like ours need not exist.
Today also saw a visit from a very different guest in the form of our local MP, Keir Starmer who came in to hear from young people and staff about what is needed and what politicians like him can do to improve the odds for young people. Understandably access to safe, affordable and good quality housing was high on the agenda for young people whether that was supported accommodation through a hostel or a temporary winter shelter. But so too was the need for finding jobs and building a career doing something that they loved. Shouldn’t their talents be used for something productive rather than simply working out where to stay that night and get through the next 24 hours?
It is easy to be cynical about such visits at this time of year. Indeed there is much talk in the sector about reminding the public – as well as politicians and the press - that homelessness exists all year round, not just in December. Personally I welcome the visit which is one of many that Keir has made to us over the years. I wish more politicians came to visit and heard from the young people here. If we are serious about ending youth homelessness then we need every politician of every persuasion to understand the specific and often overlooked issues that lead to young people becoming homeless and invest in them. If that is too much to ask for Christmas then we will be asking every day in the New Year and new decade. Only then will we be able to give their potential a home.
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