Feature: New light for Sunderland homeless

Hope for Sunderland's homeless...
Hope for Sunderland's homeless...
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A beacon of hope for the homeless. That’s how Centrepoint’s New Year move to its new £1m purpose-built centre in Monkwearmouth is seen by Martin Gill, regional operations manager for the charity.

And the hope is it will break the cycle of homelessness in the lives of so many young people in the city.

There are myriad reasons why they end up caught in the cycle of not having a roof over their heads.

On Wearside the scale of the problem, as in other parts of the country, is hidden, with many young men and women “sofa surfing”, moving from one friend’s home to another.

When the charity moves from its run-down base in Mowbray Road to Dundas Street it will have 18 units for 16-21-year-olds. That’s three more than present to give the homeless the chance of a new beginning.

Martin Gill explains: “We have got this opportunity to go to Dundas Street and they are much more likely to aspire to something. We are seeing the same young people coming back into the service, not in training, not in employment and that sometimes comes down to aspiration and no opportunity.”

The new hostel will give these young people, all from Sunderland, the opportunity to learn life skills, budgeting, cooking and training for work in preparation to living independently.

Martin says of their new home – the only hostel in the North East – built on land given by the city council: “It’s the absolute dawn of hope in the city. The city council takes it seriously enough to support us.

“We have got a brand new building to be opened up to the community so that they realise they are just Sunderland young people. And every young person who is homeless in the city of Sunderland can see this as a beacon of hope.”

It is crucially needed with 75 young people passing through the doors of the hostel in the last year.

In a better and safer environment, Martin hopes it will give them the chance to build a better future: “It’s about the beginning of a journey and if it’s done in a nice, learning environment it gives everyone the chance of a new start.”

The hope is that the new housing project would help the city council meet its target of not having any 16-17-year-olds living in bed and breakfast accommodation by next year. Many often have the same problems – alcohol, drug abuse, being sexually abused and fleeing violence.

Martin says: “We are fundraising for a Drugs and Alcohol Worker to work in the service. The vulnerable nature of the young people is such that they need extra support which we feel will bolster the excellent existing services in the city.

“The chaotic lives of the young people means that accessing support in the city is sometimes too much of a step. With a Drugs and Alcohol Worker based at the service we can provide 24/7 support and help the young people access other services by bridging the gap.

“Our hope is that through both raising our profile and raising funds, we can provide even more services for those young we work with, and also touch even more young people in the region.

“We are working on behalf of the city council and the other persons’ providers across Sunderland to make sure that all homeless young people have the best possible services.

“We are all working hard to ensure that young people have a positive experience in their journey towards independent living. We work with them as they prepare to re-engage with education and training and hope to introduce our Workwise programme to Sunderland which will greatly increase their employment chances.

“Through collaboration with the city council and other young person’s providers which include Gentoo, TeesValley Housing and Sunderland YMCA we are striving to improve the lives of difficult young people in the city.”

At the hostel it’s a shifting community with a maximum 56-day stay, although this can be extended but only for two people. New faces are constantly arriving as well as old ones returning who, with nowhere to call home, do the rounds moving from one hostel to another.

Usually they are shifting from one family or friend’s house to another. One lad slept in a pigeon cree for six weeks and others this winter will be sleeping rough in sheds, car parks and derelict buildings. They are absolutely desperate for a proper roof over their heads.

As well as shelter, Centrepoint gives them back their self-esteem. As Martin says: “If you haven’t got a permanent address you aren’t going to get training or employment or the right benefits that you need and having a doctor and dentist. The things you and I take for granted aren’t in these young people’s lives.”

And while it is all too easy to write them off, he and Steve Scott, services manager at the Sunderland hostel, know that so many are crying out for help. Steve says: “Some are young people with so many problems.

“When people come here they are at a low ebb and have many problems. A lot have been evicted. We take people who perhaps other people won’t.”

Some come from the leaving care team and Housing Options team because they have been sofa surfing and have nowhere to go.

Some parents just throw them out on the streets when they turn 16 and their benefits stop and they say, ‘I’m not keeping you any more’.”

Every day new faces come calling with all their worldly goods in a haversack on their back.

First and foremost they are helped with the practicalities – getting their benefits in place, a doctor, dentist, optician, taking them out on supervised shopping, helping them budget, buy wisely, having cookery sessions, teaching them basic skills in nutrition, health awareness in drugs, alcohol, sexual health and job-searching.

The courses give them a national accredited certificate. For some it’s the first qualification in their life.

However, the reality is, after staying at Centrepoint, they have to move on – some go to the YMCA hostel in Toward Road, Wearside Women In Need projects or the Salvation Army’s Swan Lodge in High Street East or other hostels and B&B’s.

Some are trapped in a cycle of homelessness. That is what Centrepoint is about breaking, giving young people new hope for the future.