On World Homeless Day yesterday, Thursday 10 October, three young people from St Basil’s Youth Voice took over our Twitter to answer your questions about their experiences of homelessness.
St Basil’s Youth Voice is made up of young people between 16-25 years old that have experienced homelessness, sharing their lived experience to support and bring about change.
Answering your questions were Jodie, Archie and Noemi who were helped by the Youth Voice programme when they were homeless. Also answering questions was Tamzin, the Project Manager at Youth Voice.
Q: At what point in your homeless experience did you realise you needed help?
Jodie: When I realised I didn't have any friends' houses that I could stay at any more.
Archie: When I entered the hostel and I felt my mental health depleting.
Noemi: When I was placed in semi-independent accommodation and it suddenly dawned on me that I was very alone.
Q: I'd love to know about the person, or people who gave you most hope, when you were at your lowest points? What did they do, or say, that meant most to you?
Jodie: My keyworker, 100%! She'd been through a similar experience to me so she understood it better and she went above and beyond. Youth Voice itself and its workers were also amazing - it gave us an environment where we weren't on our own and we had more workers to care for us when a lot of us had had our service user support cut.
Archie: A trainee social worker, who put their cultural background aside to help me out with my sexuality.
Noemi: My social worker Alex, she always told me she believed in me and encouraged me to go to uni.
Q: What’s your favourite food, and what do you want to do when you grow up?
Jodie: Steak! Always rare! And I want to be a clinical scientist, which I am in the process of sorting out now!
Noemi: Mac and cheese! I want to run my own youth club one day!
Archie: Kebab! I want to be a clinical psychologist or Batman.
Q: As a homeless young person what would you prioritise as the most important item/support service?
Noemi: A basic hygiene kit when people are moving in is good!
Jodie: A phone and a way to charge it is massively important because you can't get in touch with accommodation or homeless charities without it - the place to charge it is really important. Some basic meal prep and how to cook basic meals is also really important. Through St Basil's we did life skills on things like how to cook and budget and that was really good. When you've got people who are less confident living with people who are more confident it can be overwhelming, so making sure you are being placed with the right people is important.
Tamzin: Simple things like a tin opener. Also, when you’re new to accommodation, just getting to know people is really important so support with that is great. When I worked in a hostel I used to get my girls to cook and eat together – it was really good for bonding and teaching them skills.
Jodie: 100% the most important support service for me was St Basil’s’ Fair Chance programme. They also referred me to a lot of other helpful services
Archie: St Basil's was the most important service for me as well! The Employability programme which gets you into college and work.
Noemi: Centrepoint's programme were great for support and funding for employment, and they had a great mental health team too. They can see you really quickly which is impressive considering our mental health services!
Q: What support would have made a difference to you during your homeless experience?
Jodie: Earlier intervention - I didn't get any help until I was 19 and I’d been homeless since I was 13. Earlier intervention would have stopped me getting into a lot of awful circumstances. Also period support - there is nowhere to go to get pads or anything. It made it really difficult. People would never have known but there was no support.
Noemi: A more holistic approach to checking abuse and neglect - things like family breakdown weren't checked. A big thing is clothing - across the board, even for care leavers, they only give people a small budget for all of their clothing and phone, which isn’t enough. There is no support when it comes to clothing.
Archie: For me a holistic approach to everyone in the family would have helped because we were all at risk - the social workers just walk out when you hit 18 even if you are a young carer.
Jodie: A lot of young people just need one person to care about them. With the pressures of school and social media life for young people gets harder every year.
Q: How did being homeless affect your mental health and how were you helped with your mental health once you started to access services?
Jodie: It affected my mental health poorly - it rewires your brain because you're constantly in survival mode - I can't have my back to people and have to sit at the back of the bus and things like that -. I never really got any help from mental health services - I've had diagnosis but never had counselling or anything like that. They like to ply people with meds which makes things much, much worse. I didn't get any help until I was pregnant and then they got involved for the safety of my baby - but why wasn't it done for my safety beforehand?
Noemi: In my experience I was on waiting lists for a very long time. When you are homelessness it doesn't dawn on you for a long, long time because you are in survival mode.
Tamzin: I don't think there's enough work around young people recognising the signs before crisis hits and how you can prevent this - there should be more help for interventions to help young people with positive wellbeing. It's more like 'wait until crisis hits'.
Jodie: A lot of young people turn to things like alcohol and drugs to self-medicate because you don't get enough help from professionals.
Tamzin: I don't think I've met a single homeless young person who didn't suffer from mental health issues.
Jodie: A lot of appointments are over the phone, and when I am struggling with my mental health, I don't want to ring people or talk on the phone. The system is not built for people with mental health issues.
Q: What would be the top 3 things you would suggest to an individual who wants to help a homeless person to do? Also, is there anything you think that they definitely shouldn't do?
Jodie: Buying food and drink, but asking them what they like!! There is nothing worse than being handed food while starving but it's food you don't like. Ask what they like, make them feel like individuals again. Also ask them if they need help to find homeless charities or services - are they aware that there are any out there which can help them? All it would take it a quick Google on your phone to point them in the right direction.
Noemi: Just smiling at a person or saying you don't have money makes all the difference - remember they are people with feelings who have had lives!
Archie: Buy them a hot drink of their choice and give them a receipt which they can present to security staff where you bought the drink so they don't get kicked out and can get some warmth.
Jodie: I don't ever suggest to give anyone money. People don't realise that people with drug and alcohol abuse issues who are homeless got them FROM being homeless, not the other way around.
Q: How do people react when you tell them about your experiences of homelessness?
Jodie: They are always shocked and this is annoying! They think less of you because you have been through that situation.
Archie: People don't believe I was ever homeless because of the way I dress and talk.
Noemi: People tend to ask lots of questions so I normally don't tell people unless I know they will understand.
Q: Were you aware of what types of support were available to you as a homeless young person - either from your college/uni or community organisations/ charities?
Jodie: It is hard at first - a lot of places won't help you if you've got any drug or alcohol problems or if you work
Archie: The second hostel I went to gave me £150 a month to live on so I ended up owing them money by the end!
Q: Why do you think it's difficult to raise awareness for youth homelessness? What do you think could be done to improve this?
Jodie: Because a lot of us hide it well.
Noemi: The way people view homelessness means you don't really think of young people, you think of older people.
Archie: As lads we are trained not to talk about your feelings. I think this is getting better but the language is not in place to help - if I have a bad mental health day I don't know how to speak about that to someone. You don't want to talk about it so I carried this all around until I exploded.
Noemi: How do you approach a mental health service when you're struggling? The wait times are far too long.
Jodie: The way to improve it would be to teach about early intervention in schools. They don't teach you about important life skills at school either.
Noemi: Whenever we talk about mental health it is always anxiety or depression, but there are so many more mental illnesses which we don't talk about.
Q: During your homeless experience, how important was local community acceptance?
Noemi: In London there is a very negative attitude towards beggars in particular.
Tamzin: It is important as an organisation to break down the stigmas of the community and invite the community to be a part - a good community would get young people into work and employment training.
Q: If you had 5 minutes with your local MP, what would you want to say to them about homelessness?
Jodie: I would just want to say that they are losing money for not supporting the homeless! These are people that could be working and paying taxes and contributing to the community - by not taking interest or helping they are making it worse for themselves. I'd also say to put themselves in the shoes of a 13-year-old who has no family but they are from such different backgrounds that they can't imagine this. Also invest in social housing! Stop letting the unis build for students when you can't house people in the city.
Noemi: Invest money in temporary accommodation. There is nothing worse than bad temporary accommodation!
Q: How did you feel the first day you stepped into your new accommodation after asking for help?
Jodie: When I moved into supported accommodation, I was dreading it! It was terrifying. But when I moved into my own place I was relieved! I've never felt comfort like getting those keys. I find it really hard to leave home because I love it so much now.
Noemi: When I moved into supported accommodation - I was terrified. But getting my first place I was so relieved, it was lovely!