YMCA Exeter provides accommodation to young people who are at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness. In addition to accommodation, every resident also receives tailored support so they are ready for independent living.
Laura is just one of the young people YMCA Exeter have helped.
This is her story.
'When I was 13, mum met a new partner who seemed wonderful to start with - but as the years passed, he became aggressive, manipulative and violent towards us. I had watched my mother become a shell of the person she once was.
'Things got progressively worse, until one day I’d had enough and confronted him, an argument broke out, he assaulted me and I had to leave. I knew my mother was frightened of him and was not able to stand up to him. I became homeless.
'Being homeless is the scariest feeling in the world. Not knowing where you will sleep, it’s lonely, cold and seems like it is never going to end. Sitting around in the cold, hoping that a friend will let you sleep on their sofa. I remember praying that something great would happen and that all of my worries would go away. No one should feel this way, especially someone who is only 16.
'I spent time sofa-surfing and staying wherever I could. I had never felt so lonely, I was barely speaking to my family and I could see my friends were annoyed constantly having to help me.
'I moved into the YMCA, and it was the best feeling in the world to have a place to live that was my own, and I felt that I could finally support myself again. I lived there for two years.
'I made friends with other residents who had been through similar experiences to me. I confided in them and felt as though we could all relate to each other.
'My time at the YMCA changed me for the better and helped shape the person I am today. I am able to deal with my anger issues, and I became a happier and politer person! I had a secure home that enabled me to complete college and progress on to university.
'I moved to Wales and spent three years at uni, where I found a love of working with children with autism. I graduated with a 2:1 in BA (Hons) in Creative and Therapeutic Arts. I could hardly believe I had once been homeless and now I was graduating from uni!
'I now work as a Support Worker for young people with profound autism. I’m progressing to do my Master’s degree in Social Work.
'My mum is my best friend again and she is now with someone who treats her how she deserves to be treated.
'Living at the Y taught me so many things; how to be independent and to manage my money, to be grounded, kind and humble. Without places like the Y, many young people would be homeless and have very little hope of finding somewhere to live. I don’t know where I would be now without the YMCA, I dread to think. But I know that I probably wouldn’t have made it to uni.'