Nightstop host and Met Police Officer, Andy Briers discusses volunteering with People's Postcode Lottery supported charity Depaul UK and how community hosting can prevent homelessness.
You can't but have helped notice the rise in the number of young people who are now homeless in London. There are a myriad of reasons why this is a major issue for so many; eviction, debt, breakdown of relationships, abuse and many more.
It is not unusual for hundreds of young people to spend countless nights sleeping rough, in parks, estates, and riding the night bus back and forth across the capital.
Let me dispel some myths here, they are not all drug addicts, down and outs and teetering on the wrong side of the law – not that this should make any difference. Many of these young people, some children, attend schools and colleges have part-time, and even, full-time jobs. Circumstances have meant that their parents’ new partner does not make an ideal role model now they have moved into the family home, or the family have found themselves unable to pay the rent after losing employment or enduring a bereavement.
As a Partnership Inspector in Central Specialist Crime I spend my days working with partners to support and safeguard young people from crime, educate them and divert them to alternative lifestyle choices. I view this as an essential tool in protecting our young people.
School heads have voiced their concerns that children are attending school unfed and unkempt having slept rough for several nights in a row. Such a precarious lifestyle can present severe risks for these young people as they struggle to keep themselves safe, avoid becoming further victimised and the subjects of street robbery, sexual and physical abuse and the inevitable influence of gangs.
For the past five years my family and I have volunteered as Nightstop hosts for Depaul UK, an established youth homelessness charity which works across the UK.
They find emergency housing for young people aged 16-25 experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness and place them with willing hosts while they work to find suitable housing.
Depaul will ask which nights you are available to host and they send a young person to stay with you for a night, sometimes several depending on your availability and their need.
As a family we have welcomed scores of young people. Their backgrounds, nationalities and cultures vary but one thing is constant, they are very humble and extremely grateful for a bed and hot meal. They often sit and chat with us and relay their life journeys – sometimes comical, often sad. These have been very powerful testimonies to my teenage, now adult, boys as they listen to those of similar age describe a life far removed from theirs. It has given us a great insight into the struggles as well the frailties of young people.
As Met Police Service staff we aren’t always that confident at sharing our stories or understanding the power that they have in encouraging others. My hope is that this resonates with people and they consider Nightstop hosting and provide a room for the night for a young person at a time of crisis.
It is a life changing experience and one that can help rethink opinions on homelessness and the attitudes and struggles of young people.
Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised more than £9.5 million for Depaul UK since 2013. This funding allows Depaul to run services like Nightstop which last year, hosted more than 1,200 young people who might otherwise have been out on the streets.