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No place like home

The Depaul UK hosts giving young people a bed... and hope.


19 May 2024

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Opening your door to a young stranger. Giving them a bed, a meal, a chance to clean up. A haven away from the turmoil. A shoulder to cry on... if they want it.

Most people might baulk at the idea. But for Andy and Michelle Briers it is a way of life. They've not only opened up their family home. They've opened their hearts as well.

The couple are champions for youth homelessness charity Depaul UK who run an emergency accommodation service, Nightstop - hosting young people in difficult circumstances.

If not for volunteers like them across Britain, many youths would find themselves facing a night on the streets or sleeping in an unsafe place.

Some have lost their homes in terrible circumstances, including family breakdown or forced out of their own country because of serious threats of violence.

Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector and Nightstop host Andy, 58, said: "The young people don't know where they're headed to. They are more worried than we are.

"They are not precious about the house. They just want somewhere to eat, sleep and have a wash. And they're not after a mate, they just want to be warm and safe.

"As far as my job goes, I rarely tell anyone what I do unless asked, but sometimes I'll open the door to someone and get a feeling that this could have been their last chance.

"They're so vulnerable at that point; you know they could have so easily fallen victim to crime or lose their life if they had to spend the night on the street. It's such a relief to know that they've got somewhere safe to stay.

"We've often been told it offers them hope while the charity works tirelessly to find a more permanent solution for them."

The Nightstop Network

Players of People's Postcode Lottery help fund the Nightstop network, which operates in 23 locations across Britain, and relies on volunteer hosting. Last year Depaul provided 6,675 safe bed nights for young people at risk of homelessness.

Andy and charity executive wife Michelle, 56, of north London, have taken in around 100 youngsters, mostly teenagers, since they started hosting more than a decade ago.

And he said the experience has enriched family life, especially for their two sons - a physiotherapist now aged 25 and his 24-year-old brother, a police officer like his dad.

Andy said: "The boys are very used to having people stay. It's been natural to them. They enjoy it and it's exciting.

"A lot of them have been just a couple of years older, so they've watched football together, done homework together. They've never complained.

"It's not only been beneficial for the people we've hosted, but it's been great for us too. As a family we feel we've got a lot out of the experience, and people we've met as a result.

"My wife and I have always been aware that our two boys have grown up mostly wanting for nothing, so it's been good for our boys to know that there are real problems in the world. It's opened their minds quite a lot and helped to shape them.

"At first, because of how young some of the people were, I couldn't help but compare them to my own children and think of how lucky we all were.

"My wife and I often found ourselves thinking that if our boys, or any of their friends, ever fell on hard times we'd like to think that there are people who would help them in this way or give them a safe space so they didn't have to sleep rough."

As a senior police officer currently seconded to The Prince's Trust, Andy has experience in dealing with kids. And he knows that giving them space is crucial.

He said: "Not everyone who walks through our door has the energy or desire to chat and that's OK. It's to be expected.

"It's scary for the young person, and they've had a really difficult time of it, so we always make sure they are shown their room and tell them what time dinner is.

"We invite them to talk to us, watch TV with us, but never place any expectations on them. Some people just want to go to their room to sleep or study in peace.

"Chatting to the people who arrive is just a bonus, it's a great part of the role if they trust you enough to want to open up. There's been plenty of memorable conversations."

He added: "Some of them are so lovely that, if you could, you would adopt them. You want to hold onto them."

Helping Young People

Andy told how they don't hear from their charges after they move on - although Depaul UK now produces a weekly newsletter which lets them know the progress of some youngsters.

Andy said: "Once they go, they go. We never bump into anyone and don't exchange numbers. They move onto other things.

"Sometimes we do have them for three to four weeks and it can be hard to say goodbye. There have been a few tears. It's not permanent, it's emergency accommodation. But you do grow attached.

"All we really want to hear is that we've given a little bit of a leg up, helping them get on a rung of the ladder."

Andy admitted that he found the prospect of signing up for Depaul UK daunting at first - until he read about a young couple with a baby who had opened up their home.

Andy said: "We heard about it and thought, maybe not. Then we read about a young couple with a baby and thought, if they can do it..."

But he would encourage others to follow their lead - and welcome young people into their homes.

He said: "I'd say to people that you get all the training, support and safeguarding. We've never had an incident in the 10-12 years that we've been doing it. It is such a rewarding experience. There is no pressure on you. It's up to you how much or how little you want to do it."

He added: "It's honestly one of the best things I've done, and it's so easy to see what a difference it makes. A couple of nights a month, a hot meal and shower is all that's needed to completely change someone's life for the better."