A new service to help teenagers and young adults facing homelessness is being set up in Essex.
Across Chelmsford and Colchester, a team of volunteers are preparing to launch Nightstop Essex to help prevent homelessness and support young adults between 16 to 25 facing an immediate housing crisis.
The group, run by national youth homelessness prevention charity Depaul UK, works to catch vulnerable teens and young adults who are facing family or relationship breakdowns, are sofa-surfing or even facing sleeping on the streets.
Using a team of trained and vetted volunteers as “hosts”, the young individuals are offered a spare room, hot meal, shower and crucially, a listening ear – all while team work to arrange longer term, secure accommodation.
With plans to kickstart the project at the end of February, there is now a drive to find as many hosts as possible.
“Young people are so targeted on the streets and so vulnerable so we need to keep them safe,” the 34-year-old said.
“We want to prevent them from getting involved in that way of life and so if we catch them early enough, we can try give them the support they need to change that direction.”
“Your eyes are opened”
Having previously worked in a children’s home in Essex for a number of years, Alison understands some of the challenges young people face today and how quickly it can go wrong.
“It’s not until you start working there that your eyes are opened and you start noticing it more,” she said.
“Some people are sofa-surfing or crashing at friends’ houses and they don’t realise they are actually homeless and haven’t got a place to call home.
“We want to give them that safety and security. Everyone needs a place they feel safe and home gives you normality and security. Not knowing or having that personal space can affect your mental health.
“I can only imagine not having that security makes you very vulnerable and a target to county lines and life can go in a really different direction.”
Alison added: “I think young people are under so much pressure now, something we can never comprehend with social media and needing to look a certain way. Young people going through so much to be this perfect person and get a really hard time.”
After the volunteers have gone through a rigorous vetting and training process, their homes become a safe space for any teens or young adults who need it.
If a young person is identified in need, a chaperone is arranged to help drive them to their host home and help with introductions and a smooth transition where they arrive
“A host is someone who has a spare bedroom and can provide a safe, warm place, hot meal for the evening and breakfast and packed lunch for the day.
“The main focus is that they have a listening ear. We do not ask them to provide advice, just to be a listening ear.
“Just having someone to listen and be non-judgemental can have a real difference.
“Volunteers do that out of the kindness of their hearts too, they have a contribution to expenses but don’t earn profit and that means a lot to them. They aren’t doing it for money, it’s because they care.”
Cost of living crisis
Some of the individuals Nightstop deals with, where other projects are running across the country, involve people who have left care, people from the LGBTQ+ community or people experiencing family breakdowns who need respite.
“Some young people do return home, especially with breakdowns, and they need that time away to calm and reflect,” she said.
“But if they are not safe to go home, we can provide accommodation from one night up to three weeks and in that time we work extremely hard to provide secure accommodation long term.”
Nightstop also works extensively with local agencies which they can then connect the young person to, to help them keep afloat and stop them from falling into homelessness.
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With the cost of living crisis seeing increasing energy bills, rents, mortgages, groceries and taxes, Alison said they are expecting those facing homelessness to increase too.
“We are all feeling it right now, my electric run out yesterday and it’s not even a month yet and that was an extra £20/30 so that is a huge difference,” she said.
“Even with the food bills it has gone up so people are feeling it a huge amount and the pressure on people and families, it can be the landlord asking them to leave or struggling to keep up with bills.”
Currently all referrals for Nightstop come from Chelmsford City Council and Colchester Borough Council who are the local authorities funding the project and helping with the charity to roll out the project.
Nightstop is also working closely with other services such as homeless charity Sanctus, in Chelmsford, who provide services helping with food, housing, mentoring, addiction and mental health support, CV workshops and much more.
Similarly charity Colchester Korban Project are also helping with the scheme to provide supported housing for 16 – 25 year old’s who have found themselves in crisis.
To get the new service going by the end of February, Nightstop need volunteers in the community who are willing to offer their spare room to a young person in need.
There are rigorous procedures in place to ensure the safety of volunteers, as well as the young people they work with which is why all guests are fully risk-assessed prior to staying with a host, to make sure that the service is safe for all involved.
Currently, they are looking for:
- Volunteer Hosts, who have a spare room and live in the Chelmsford or Colchester area.
- Volunteer Drivers/Chaperones, who would like to help young people arrive safely at a host’s home
Mark Wood, chief executive of charity Korban, stressed they have been part of the Joint Referral Panel for supported housing providers in Colchester for many years, where they have helped over 130 young people since they began in 2008.
“Nightstop can also provide intervention at a crucial time which means some young people don’t need to go into supported housing in the first place, so we’re thrilled to be part of the Nightstop Essex partnership,” he added.
Cllr Stephen Robinson, Leader of Chelmsford City Council, said: “Nobody should have to live on the streets in 2021. Out of a growing concern about the level of homelessness in this country, the City Council has set up a Homelessness Forum.
It brings together many different groups and organizations who all work together for the same aim – ending homelessness in Chelmsford.
“Bringing Nightstop to Chelmsford is an important part of that work and will give targeted help to young people who become homeless.
“If you could give a young person a temporary home, you could save them from sleeping rough and stop them from needlessly spiralling into further difficulties. You could help to change their lives for the better in a big way.”
- If you want to reach out to Nightstop, you can call 07929750574 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or find their Facebook page here.
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