One night can make all the difference

Steph has been helped by the YMCA's Nightstop scheme. Steph has been helped by the YMCA's Nightstop scheme.

Monday, December 30, 2013
2:00 PM

Life on the streets is something no teenager should have to face - which is why dozens of families across Norfolk offer up their spare rooms to give troubled youngsters a roof over their heads. MARK SHIELDS reports

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Steph’s story

Steph was just 17 when she was kicked out of the home she had shared with her guardian and family for the last 14 years, after the arguments and clashes became too much.

“I sent a message to 20 of my friends asking if they could put me up for the night,” she said.

“One of them, who had previous experience of being in care, got back to me. I stayed with her family for two weeks then met Tyna and she got me into a Nightstop placement with Sally and Charles near the city centre.”

Those few days with Sally and Charles were just what Steph needed to get her back on her feet.

She has now moved on to live with YMCA supported lodgings hosts, where life is looking much rosier.

“Life is now so much easier than at home,” said Steph. “I am back in contact with my guardian and her children and I visit them occasionally and we can spend time together and not clash anymore. I’ve become more confident and much happier in myself.”

Steph now attends college two days a week, placement one day, and goes to climbing, singing and drama clubs at Open.

She is studying for a health and social care level 3 BTEC diploma, with a clear vision of where she wants to end up. “I eventually want to become a social worker by going to university and working my way up through the ranks,” she said.

“I feel a lot more comfortable now I am treated as an adult. I am no longer in a position where someone has complete control over me... I can now control my own life and am a lot more confident because of it.”

“I will never forget how much you have helped me.”

So reads the letter that Sally and Charles Carus received from teenager Steph, one of the many homeless young people to have spent time under their roof recently.

The couple act as emergency short-term accommodation Nightstop hosts for YMCA Norfolk, putting up for a night or two young people aged 16 to 24 who have nowhere else to turn.

Without their intervention, the youngsters would likely end up on the streets.

Mrs Carus, 80, said: “On average once a month, we get a phone call in the late afternoon from Tyna at the YMCA, although this can vary. Tyna will call us, asking if we are available that night. But there is no pressure if we are not available.

“The young person will be brought to us between 5pm and 6pm and we welcome them in, show them their room and let them get settled. We then provide an evening meal, a room for the night and breakfast the next morning. They are mostly out during the day and stay with us for a maximum of five nights.”

The retired teacher and her husband have opened up their home in the Golden Triangle to around 30 homeless young people over the last three years. They have a spare room now that their own two sons have grown up and left home.

“Some of the young people want to chat, others just want to go to their room and sleep,” said Mrs Carus. “You don’t know quite what their situation is: some are really lost souls.”

Mrs Carus first came across youngsters who had nowhere to go when she was a trustee with the Mancroft Advice Project.

“I realised that there was this floating population of young people who, quite literally, had nowhere to go and they were desperately ringing round trying to find a bed for the night.

“They are in a situation when a night or two somewhere safe could make all the difference.”

Mr Carus, also 80, said: “I feel that I have had a lot from society and this is a way of giving something back.

“I hope we show them some empathy, tolerance and understanding.

“I am a churchgoer and sing in a choir at St Thomas’s Church, Norwich. Nightstop fits in with that and I feel it is something that is good to be doing,” he said.

Over the years, the pair have seen a variety of youngsters pass under their roof. Mr Carus, a retired architect, remembers a young chef from Scotland, who had come down for a job – but when it didn’t work out, he had nowhere to turn.

“Another girl was a brilliant pianist and she played our piano for us. Later she sent us a CD of her music,” he added.

Mrs Carus said: “The most rewarding part is when you feel that your bit has made a difference to their lives. That when life is chaotic for them, for a short time at least they have got a bit of stability and they know where they are coming back to for a day or two.”

Before the young people are sent to a host, the YMCA follows a strict process. YMCA Norfolk co-ordinator Tyna Sutcliffe said: “In everything we do, the safety and welfare of young people and our volunteer hosts is paramount and the process of risk and needs assessing is thorough and restorative.

“The young people often come from a crisis situation where they have been at risk. What our volunteer hosts offer is a safe, warm, secure environment, with emotional support and the opportunity for them to rest and feel welcomed.

“It is so much more than just allowing a person in crisis to come and stay with you in your home: it is giving young people a safe, secure platform. From there, young people are able to process what’s happening to them and feel equipped and supported to take the next steps.”

Norfolk Nightstop Plus is commissioned by Broadland District, South Norfolk, Norwich City and Breckland councils and Norfolk County Council children’s services department, and is affiliated to DePaul UK.

To find out more about Nightstop, contact Tyna Sutcliffe on 07436 107530 or tynasutcliffe
@ymca-norfolk.org.uk

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