‘Vulnerable teens are being housed with dangerous criminals – I know, because it happened to me’

  • london
  • January 27, 2024
  • Comments Off on ‘Vulnerable teens are being housed with dangerous criminals – I know, because it happened to me’
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Desperate to escape her abusive homelife, 17-year-old Sara had just 30 minutes to make her escape before anyone realised she had gone. 

‘My mum hit me so hard there was just blood everywhere,’ the teenager from London tells Metro. ‘After, she left the house and I took my chance – within 25 minutes I had packed up and left.

‘I had to grab my phone which my mum had kept locked away for months and I just went straight to my friend’s house in tears.’

However, while Sara managed to flee,  she soon faced even more distress alongside the thousands of other young Londoners who find themselves without a roof over their heads every year. 

According to the charity New Horizon, which helps young people find somewhere safe to stay, out of 22,000 who faced homelessness in the capital last year, 35% were not assessed at all by their council.

Some were even told to ‘go back home’, forcing teenagers to sleep in ‘unsafe’ situations rather than return to their abusive families.

‘I approached my council and showed them all the pictures of my cuts and bruises that my mum inflicted on me and I told them I had to leave the house,’ explains Sara, who is going by a pseudonym to protect her identity. 

‘But it just felt like they didn’t care. It didn’t matter that I was only 17 and was already known to them as a vulnerable child, they told me to go back home which made me feel like a piece of rubbish.’

Recalling her traumatic upbringing, Sara tells Metro that she suffered emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her mum, who kept her isolated indoors.

‘It was only getting worse at home, and one day I reached my breaking point,’ she says.

It took two months for the council to put Sara into care, during which she spent the entire time relying on the generosity of school mates.

When she was finally housed, it was with ex-prisoners and older men who would try and get into her room at night.

‘They would stand in a large group and call me names as I tried to walk into the building,’ says Sara. ‘The locks on my door weren’t working properly and I heard people trying to come in a few times. They even slipped me nasty notes.

‘My shower also didn’t work properly which meant I had to find someone else’s to use. It made me feel so incredibly unsafe. I still get upset just thinking back to that time.’

Despite showing her social worker how intimidating it was living there, it took one year and three days for Sara to be moved.

‘I felt scared just leaving my room to go to college, and I would stay there for as long as I could just so I didn’t have to go back to my home,’ she remembers.

‘Obviously I could never bring my friends over and the rooms were just incredibly small.’

It was only when visiting a New Horizon’s youth centre for the first time after being told about it through a friend, that Sara realised she had somewhere to go to feel like a ‘normal’ teenager.

This included getting a hot meal, chatting with other young people, and even being able to watch Youtube.

She says: ‘I was so comfortable with the thought of leaving education because of everything that was going on. But one of the youth support workers sat me down and helped me fill out my UCAS application form, and now I have offers to study pharmacy at university.’

The total number of those facing sleeping on the streets in the UK rose from 129,000 to 136,000 last year, leaving Youth Centres across the nation struggling to deal with the ‘worst winters they have ever faced’.

The New Horizon Youth Centre tells Metro that a record number of young people came into their centres to ask for help in the first week of January this year.

Polly Stephens, Head of Policy & Learning at New Horizon Youth Centre, says they are even being forced to tell youngsters they do not have any housing appointments left.

‘It’s hard to put into words how it feels to be in our centre sometimes,’ she admits. ‘At the start of January, 76 young people came through our doors in just one day. 

‘People left sleeping rough explain some of the worst experiences I have ever heard, including a young woman sleeping rough and freezing cold on a boxing day, and I have to tell them we don’t have any housing appointments left.

‘I can watch a queue of 60 people snake through our centre waiting for their one hot meal of the day, and it feels overwhelming how much we are their safety net.’

New Horizon has launched a petition to push the government into creating a national strategy to end youth homelessness. 

Sara said: ‘I wish places like New Horizons were taught about in school, so children know where to go if they are ever in my situation. 

‘It takes just a click of a finger for things to change drastically, so people need to be aware how to access support. 

‘If the number keeps rising, more and more are just going to find themselves in a dangerous situation like I did.’ 

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

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