Help needed for Somerset's "sofa surfers"
A new scheme being launched in West Somerset will give homeless young people a roof over their heads for the night. Nightstop is spearheaded by the YMCA in partnership with West Somerset District Council.
There are many young people in West Somerset who are actually homeless; they use sofa surfing at friends, relatives, or acquaintances as a way of keeping a roof over their heads, often staying at a different place each night. They are vulnerable and sofa surfing can put them at further risk.
One of the major causes is the breakdown of families, with new partners and step parents that teenagers find it difficult to get along with and it sometimes leads to them having to leave the family home. Other factors can further complicate the situation – bereavement, poverty and unemployment.
The scheme involves volunteer host families opening their doors to homeless young people aged 16 to 24, in dire need of a safe haven for a night. Young people are typically placed between 5-7pm, when host families then provide an evening meal, access to washing facilities and breakfast the next morning. In return for their support, host families are given induction, training and expenses. During the day, young people will return to Council offices for support to explore their housing options.
Nightstop has been up and running in Sedgemoor and Taunton Deane Districts for the last 18 months and has been a tremendous success.
Nightstop hosts, Iain and Sarah, comment on their experiences:
“It was much easier than we expected. Without exception, we would have any of the young people back, but they were all completely different. We did have a stereotype in mind and thought the young person might be tricky, but we found they were pleasant young people who found themselves in difficult circumstances, sometimes through no fault of their own. Your heart goes out to them and you just want to give them some normality and an island refuge in their troubles.”
Ben, at 18 became homeless and tells his story:
“In March it got too much to stay at home due to family breakdown with lots of arguments and I had to leave. I found myself homeless and living in a tent for two weeks. I was studying at College and the Student Support took me to Routes where the YMCA are. I was able to access Nightstop, I met with staff to do the paperwork that day and was offered a placement with a host. I stayed in Nightstop for five nights.
My hosts were amazing, so helpful. I was able to have a shower and eat food, which I didn’t have means to do before. When I first went to the Hosts I had planned to go out and meet friends. However we started talking and ended up talking all night. Having someone to listen made a big difference. Nightstop allowed me to have more confidence as I didn’t know where to go. It opened up more options and opportunities.”
Ian Timms at West Somerset District Council commented:
"Homelessness is a big issue in West Somerset. Over 150 people approached West Somerset Council for help with homelessness last year. Their housing needs can be met, but in the meantime they are in dire need of a safe place to sleep. Our West Somerset young Sofa Surfers are extremely vulnerable and we want to see them turn their lives around, and Nightstop will be a crucial part of this.”
To find out more about Nightstop or Hosting for Nightstop you can visit www.bridgwaterymca.org. Additionally, you can contact Brittney Strange on 01278 726040 or by e-mail: email@example.com