Thousands homeless over Christmas

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Published: Monday 22nd December 2014 by The News Editor

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The festive season is not a jolly time for everyone – and thousands of young people face being homeless this Christmas.

One young woman who was homeless and away from her family said it felt like she was ”watching a movie of someone else’s Christmas”.

Comfort Orotayo, 21, from south London, spent last Christmas at her friend’s house, having been homeless for four months after a family breakdown.

In the new year, she received help from youth homelessness charity Centrepoint and stayed in one of their hostels for most of the year.

Centrepoint said 18% of young people in the UK have had to sleep in an unsafe place in the past 12 months – including the streets, cars and night buses – because they had nowhere else to stay, according to a poll of 2,000 16 to 25-year-olds.

The charity said 20% have had to sofa surf in the past year – like Ms Orotayo – staying with friends or extended family on floors or sofas.

A total of 15,000 young people are facing homelessness this Christmas, according to the charity.

Ms Orotayo, who has just moved in to her own flat, said she felt “disconnected and alone” last Christmas.

She added: “Even though my friend put me up and stuff, and I appreciate that, it was the first Christmas I didn’t spend with my family.

“I didn’t speak to my family, so it didn’t really feel like Christmas. It just felt like I was watching a movie of someone else’s Christmas and there was so many things missing.”

Ms Orotayo said the perfect images of Christmas that appear on television only made it worse.

She said: “It was upsetting because Christmas, it’s all on TV, family, family, family, family, and when you’re in a situation where you can’t be anywhere near your family it’s like rubbing it in your face.

“I felt like on TV all the adverts were laughing at me, ‘You don’t have anybody to spend your Christmas with’. But things are better this year.”

Ms Orotayo said Christmas is a time when it is important to spend time with your loved ones.

“You want to be with your family, but if you can’t you’re just by yourself, and it’s really heavy on your heart. You don’t know what to do with yourself, because where do you go? If you don’t have your family, who do you really have?” she said.

Her new place is unfurnished and she is embarking on “the DIY SOS adventure of my life”, but she looks forward to future Christmases with great optimism and excitement.

Ms Orotayo added: “I would have big family Christmases. I want my place, obviously when I have a boyfriend and children, I want my place to be the homely place.

“My Christmas would probably be a huge dinner, leftovers for days, then night-time (would) turn into a party all into Boxing Day, everybody coming would bring their kids.

“Our kids can have fun with each other’s’ kids, there’s no bedtime because it’s Christmas, and we can all enjoy each other’s company.

“Those are the type of Christmases I think are amazing because you create memories and you can get out out your phone and film all the fun stuff, karaoke, and those are the things you look back on when you grow up.”

Ms Orotayo said homelessness can happen to “anybody” and said circumstances “change within an instant”.

She said: “I just think everybody should take time, before they die, to at least chat to a homeless person, because I swear, the conversation you will have will change your life, or change your outlook on life, and change your perspective on life, your perception of people, because it’s so much deeper and they’re so nice.

“It could happen to you, it could happen to anybody, circumstances change within an instant.

“You could be living in a mansion today and be sleeping under a dustbin tomorrow.

“It’s circumstance, and nobody’s better than anybody. It could happen to anybody. You’re just lucky it hasn’t happened to you.”

Balbir Chatrik, director of policy at Centrepoint, said “family breakdown” is the most common reason for young people becoming homeless, and said people usually stay in a Centrepoint hostel for anywhere between six months and two years.

She said the charity does its best to create a “family atmosphere” during the festive season.

Ms Chatrik added: “Christmas is a family time and it’s very, very shocking to hear that there’s 15,000 young people who are going to be homeless at Christmas. And given that it is a family time we try and provide the family atmosphere at Centrepoint.

“So what we will do in our services is we will actually make sure there’s a Christmas tree, and we’ll have a Christmas turkey with all the trimmings, and we make sure that young people get a present to open.”

Ms Chatrik said there are more mental health problems around Christmas time because people are remembering their family, and said it can be “quite a sad time”.

Meanwhile at Centrepoint, young people also receive individual learning support in a bid to help them access education and training or employment.

They can take part in bespoke courses to help prepare them for work, manage their money or take up sport.

The charity’s learning team is entirely funded by donations from members of the public and businesses.

Angel Costen, 20, is currently being helped by the charity and has taken part in a functional skills session, with courses focused on maths or English.

Published: Monday 22nd December 2014 by The News Editor

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