Crisis of youths sleeping rough

A charity has taken on two flats to provide much-needed shelter for homeless youngsters in north Northumberland, after a surge in the number sleeping rough last year.

Alnwick-based Gallery Youth is managing the temporary accommodation units in the town, offering up to five bed spaces at any one time.

The organisation is also working with youth homelessness charity Depaul UK to expand a Nightstop service and is looking for more residents in the area to provide a spare bed for a night or two for homeless young people.

Last year, in Alnwick alone, 10 people, aged between 18 and 24, were sleeping rough at different points.

They were being forced to sleep in tents and bushes because of the lack of emergency support. Others were sleeping on friends’ sofas.

It is feared this is happening across the area.

Nickie Whittaker, young people housing support worker at Gallery Youth, admitted the number of cases in Alnwick in 2012 was ‘unprecedented’ and said the figure would be higher across north Northumberland.

So, Gallery Youth decided enough was enough and has taken action.

Project manager Ian McRae said: “We were really concerned at the scale of the problem over the last year and our trustees decided we had to look for ways to make sure young people had somewhere to go in an emergency.

“That’s why we have taken on two flats to provide temporary accommodation to young people, and worked with Depaul UK to get a Nightstop service running locally.”

Homes for Northumberland and Johnnie Johnson Housing have provided the properties which are furnished and managed by Gallery Youth.

As well as taking on the flats and supporting the young people living there, Gallery Youth and Depaul UK are working on the Nightstop North East service to help young people find a safe place to stay for a few days if they are suddenly homeless.

Several local families have been recruited and trained to be volunteer hosts.

It is hoped more people across north Northumberland will come forward.

Mr McRae said: “Having a Nightstop in the area means young people have more options, in terms of support, at a local level.

“In the past, young people have had to travel to Newcastle, or even Sunderland, to get a bed for the night and that can be daunting.”

The role of a volunteer host involves offering a young person a spare bed, food and the use of facilities for a night or two while they are helped to find more permanent accommodation.

Young people needing a bed for the night are assessed by Gallery Youth and Depaul UK before they are accepted as Nightstop users.

All volunteers receive out-of-pocket expenses, full training and 24-hour support as needed. No previous experience is necessary.

One volunteer from Warkworth, who did not want to be named, has been a host since the autumn.

She said she was surprised at the scale of the problem in north Northumberland and added: “I’ve been glad to help.

“The youngsters I’ve hosted have been grateful for the help they have received.”