‘An emotional time’ - what’s Christmas like for our young people at risk of homelessness?

Staff members Oli Gillies, Sharon Holsey and Wayne Miles at Winston Court - the Benjamin Foundation'

Staff members Oli Gillies, Sharon Holsey and Wayne Miles at Winston Court - the Benjamin Foundation's supported accommodation centre in North Walsham. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

Christmas is seen by many as a happy time of year where families get together and celebrate.

Jay Junior is a resident at Winston Court. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Jay Junior is a resident at Winston Court. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

And for young people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless that is not always the reality.

But a charity is helping teenagers and young adults aged 16-25 who would otherwise be without a home a chance to celebrate Christmas in safety.

The Benjamin Foundation, which has supported children, young people and families in Norfolk and Suffolk for 25 years, offers 82 beds and ongoing support for this vulnerable group of people across six supported accommodation centres in North Walsham, Aylsham, Great Yarmouth, Fakenham, King's Lynn and Thetford.

Wayne Miles, centre manager of Winston Court supported accommodation centre in North Walsham, which opened 22 years ago, said: "It wouldn't bear thinking about what would happen to these people if centres like this were not here.

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"For most people, Christmas can be an emotional time but for a young person at risk of homelessness it must hit them hard because there is a big emphasis on family. They are vulnerable."

Centre residents and staff have a Christmas dinner and the young people receive gifts from charities, members of the public and family members of former residents.

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"We have had tears from some of the young people who cannot believe people have donated. They genuinely appreciate it," Mr Miles added.

He said the causes of homelessness in young people included family breakdowns, drugs and crime, challenging behaviour, people coming out of the care system as well as young people being removed from their parents.

The centre manager added support staff were caring for more people with mental health issues.

He said: "Our support workers teach them life skills and confidence. We are about giving the young people empowerment and the self-belief to do things themselves."

The ultimate aim is for the young people to get their own tenancy, gain employment and rebuild family relationships where appropriate.

They generally stay in the centres for up to two years, where they have a private room and 24/7 access to support workers.

Teenager praises charity's support

A teenager at risk of being homeless said he would be a different person if he had not been helped by the Benjamin Foundation.

The 18-year-old, who wished to remain anonymous, grew up in Cromer but was left without a place to live after losing his job in the summer meaning he could not pay for his rented accommodation.

He could not live with his mother after their relationship broke down and he did not want to move in with his father, who lives in Salisbury.

The teenager, who moved into Winston Court in September, said: "If I was in the position that I was previously in this Christmas I would be a completely different person. It was stressful and depressing. The centre has helped me grow from a boy into a man and taught me life skills. I'm grateful."

Jay Junior, 19, who was in the care system since he was 11, moved into Winston Court this year and said Christmas brought about good and bad feelings.

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