Sunderland woman helps highlight homelessness among young people on Bleak Friday
A young Sunderland woman who has turned her life around with the help of a charity is being used to highlight the problem of homelessness in the run-up to Christmas.
Centrepoint says thousands of vulnerable young people will be homeless or at risk of having no roof over their head in the next few weeks.
The charity said 18,000 young people aged 16-25 in the UK are currently or under threat of sleeping rough, and warned that homelessness is not always visible.
It has dubbed November 30 Bleak Friday - a spin on last week's Black Friday - to highlight the challenges facing homeless young people over the festive period.
Centrepoint highlighted the case of Zinnia Young, from Sunderland, who became homeless after she was kicked out by her foster parents following the birth of her daughter.
She suffered from post-natal depression and found herself sofa surfing when she agreed to put her baby up for adoption.
The 23-year-old is now in her second year of a painting and decorating apprenticeship, and is living in privately rented accommodation, with help from Centrepoint.
She said: "They encouraged me to look for a job that would make me happy, and painting and decorating is the only thing that really helps me.
"Getting a job has really helped with my mental health, being motivated, helped my confidence.
"I'm definitely more in control of everything now than I was beforehand."
Centrepoint's research says 26% of young homeless people find themselves sofa-surfing and 68% are staying temporarily with extended family or friends to avoid abusive situations.
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This is the first year that Zinnia plans on celebrating Christmas, having previously spent the festive season alone, as it brings back bad memories and causes anxiety.
She said: "Centrepoint support young people, to help them get a home, and they're just basically letting them know that there's someone out there who cares about them.
"Centrepoint went from supporting me to me now classing them as basically my family. I think all young people deserve that."
Centrepoint's research found 93% of people who have slept rough felt no one cared about them, while 26% of homeless young people (have stayed with a stranger because they had nowhere else to turn.
Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint chief executive, said: "For many, Christmas is a season to splurge, with thousands enjoying the Black Friday deals, but for young homeless people it can be bleak, scary and sometimes life-threatening.
"While many of us are surrounded by friends and family, enjoying the festivities, it can be easy to forget that not everyone has the same support network or even a safe space to sleep.
"With the problem of youth homelessness growing, we need help now more than ever to protect these vulnerable young people and help them have a brighter New Year."
Minister for homelessness Heather Wheeler said: "We are investing more than Â£1.2billion to tackle all forms of homelessness, including amongst young people, who should always have a roof over their heads, regardless of the season.
"Our new Homelessness Reduction Act requires councils to intervene sooner and help those at risk of being left with nowhere to go, and is already making a difference.
"Councils have access to more than Â£90 billion this year and next to meet the needs of their residents, and we announced extra money for them at Budget."
* Centrepoint is urging people to donate to support those in need this winter, by visiting centrepoint.org.uk/donate.