No Young Person Chooses to be Homeless: YMCA DownsLink Group Launch Hard Hitting Campaign

No Young Person Chooses to be Homeless: YMCA DownsLink Group Launch Hard Hitting Campaign

Can you imagine what it would have been like to navigate your teenage years without a supportive family? Or, worse, that your home wasn’t a safe place to be? There are many reasons that young people become homeless, but it is never their choice. That’s the message from YMCA DownsLink Group, the south-east’s biggest youth charity, who are launching a new, hard-hitting campaign to drive awareness of youth homelessness.


The charity is focussing on four ‘stories’ from young people who’ve needed their help. Their names and identities have been changed to protect them, but their experiences are real.  The stories illustrate some of the difficult reasons behind a young person’s ‘choice’ to leave home. For most it really isn’t a ‘choice’, but a consequence of what’s happened to them as children, or, of finding themselves in a situation over which they have no control.

The picture becomes complicated as children become young adults, because their early experiences can mean that in teenage years a young person may go ‘off the rails’; they make bad choices, suffer poor mental health and may get involved in drink and drugs. They can be judged harshly, as their behaviour maybe challenging and self-sabotaging. Without intervention, anyone in this situation can fall into a cycle of homelessness, illness, joblessness, poverty etc, that becomes increasingly difficult to break.

By sharing ‘real’ stories, this campaign aims to challenge the judgement and stigmatisation of young people facing homelessness and promote greater understanding of how significant support, at this crucial time, can change their lives and give them back their future.

Susie* is a great example of a young person whose life has been changed as a result of moving into 24-hour supported accommodation with YMCA DownsLink Group. Susie was left to live on her own at 18 following a distressing experience involving her mum’s boyfriend, which split her family. She was struggling to cope alone and had stopped going to college. She was given a home with the charity and with the help of her key workers she started to rebuild her trust in adults and was able to get back into studying. Three years on and Susie has just started at university to study astrophysics! She sent this card to staff when she moved out:

“Thank you so much for your gifts and card!!!  I want to thank everyone for being a part of my life and helping me come out of my shell and believe in me. I had the greatest 3 years at the Y Centre and I hope someone else will also benefit as much as I did from all your care and support. I’m wishing you all the best in your futures and hope you continue to put smiles on your own and everyone else’s face. It’s been a blessing and pleasure thank you for having me as a resident.” Read her full story on YMCA DownsLink Group’s website (www.ymcadlg.org/ymca-story/susies-story) or watch it here

The charity’s Room Sponsorship scheme is a simple and practical way for anyone wanting to help prevent youth homelessness to make a difference. For just 40p a day (£12 per month) a sponsor can help a young person access the support they need to develop the skills to live independently. With homelessness becoming increasingly visible, as a local charity, the scheme is set up to allow people to support a young person in their own town or city (Brighton & Hove, Crawley, Eastbourne, Hastings, Horsham, Guildford, Worthing).

The timing of the campaign is also significant, as the number of young people needing the charity’s help has increased dramatically. Homelessness, poor mental health, family breakdown and unemployment/financial issues have always been factors impacting the lives of the vulnerable young people, but Covid-19 has hugely exacerbated these issues. At the height of lockdown the charity saw a 61% increase in presentations of homelessness, and although it has stabilised, it is still 20% higher than pre pandemic levels.

The current statistics** around youth homelessness speak for themselves:

  • It is estimated that 20% of homeless people are aged 16 to 24.
  • Approximately 40% of 16-25 year olds in the UK have sofa-surfed at some point due to having nowhere to live.
  • One in ten young people who have sofa-surfed did so for more than a month in total.

As well as the homeless young people we see on the streets, there are also those we don’t see – the hidden homeless.  These are the young people who are sofa-surfing or finding temporary accommodation with family and friends, and therefore not present in the statistics shared around homelessness.  Some stay with strangers and may be exploited, having to exchange sex for somewhere to stay.

Jack* has an all too familiar story. His relationship with his family broke down after he came out as gay. He found himself homeless when he ran out of places to stay. Recent research by charity, AKT, found  that 61% of LGBTQU+ people aged 16-25 who had become homeless had first felt frightened or threatened by family.

Jack:  “When I told my family I was gay it was probably the worst day of my life. My dad just couldn’t look at me and my mum wouldn’t stop crying.  It made me feel terrible about myself –  I got so depressed and low……..I was in a really bad place mentally – I think I just hated myself back then. The support workers were amazing and they just seemed to ‘get me’ and know what I needed. They encouraged me to join a local LBGTQ group and that was the start of me accepting myself for who I am. I feel so different now, I’ve mostly stopped self-harming and if I’m feeling low I know I’ve got people to talk to. I’m starting an apprenticeship soon and I feel so much more positive about the future.”

Jack is just one of 763 young people in Sussex and Surrey that YMCA DownsLink Group provide a safe home to every night.

To enable them to continue to deliver this support and give more young people the chance of a brighter future why not become a Room Sponsor? To find out more visit – https://www.ymcadlg.org/get-involved/donate/room-sponsor/