The difference between support and the RIGHT support

Thursday, 3 March 2016 - 5:40pm

Getting timely, appropriate support can mean the difference between moving on or falling deeper into homelessness. Two young people share their very different experiences of how the help they received from the homelessness sector has affected their lives.

Gemma and Simon’s experiences of homelessness began in similar circumstances – with a family breakdown in their late teens. However, the similarities in their stories ended soon after they started being helped by homelessness services.


After a long period of sofa surfing and squatting, and feeling isolated, Gemma was offered a room in a hostel. Just a room and little else.

“There was no offer of any mediation help for me and my Mum,” she says. “Thinking back now, this could have really changed things for me.

“I got assigned a key worker, but many one-to-one appointments were cancelled and I even used to turn up and wait and watch the clock. But no one turned up, so once again, there was no one there for me. I even got told not to find a job as I wouldn't be able to afford the rent.”

“Helplessness was a very common feeling for me whilst being in the hostels”

Instead of getting the support she needed to move on from homelessness, Gemma felt held back. She saw no way out other than moving to another hostel where the support was no better. Her mental health deteriorated.

“I felt so isolated but they didn't offer me support … I just wanted someone there for me that had my best interests at heart. I was promised time after time that if I paid my rent, did these life skills courses, attended meetings - these were all the things that would secure me to move on and get my own place. I did everything that I was told to do. I started to feel incredibly institutionalised and realised that after years of being in hostels, I was scared to leave. The staff didn't give me the guidance and support. I needed to move on.

“The staff never listened to my pleas for help unless I was screaming, crying and at my absolute wits end. Helplessness was a very common feeling for me whilst being in the hostels.”


After just three nights of sofa surfing and feeling “too much of a burden”, Simon was signposted to St Basils and offered temporary accommodation straight away.

“It was not what I had expected. The building was inspirational and I had my own bedroom, bathroom, toilet, fridge freezer. I felt at ease, and that I could make it my home, even though it was for a short period of time.”

“Education and financial worries can be very stressful for a young person at crisis point, but I got the support I needed”

“Dealing with education and financial worries can be very stressful for a young person at crisis point, but I got the support I needed to claim the benefits I needed to support myself.”

Simon believes that getting accommodation and support quickly was crucial: “I probably would have been sofa-surfing for many weeks, and I’m certain that I would not have stayed in that position for long. In fact, I probably would have dropped out of college and my dreams would have been shattered basically.”

The timely support did more than ensure that Simon’s situation didn’t become more complicated. He was also offered opportunities to build his skills and confidence, even getting involved in the Youth Homeless Parliament which aims to influence national Government around their homelessness policy.

“I’m now at university working towards my ambitions of becoming a teacher. I want to inspire children out there to make the most of their education in order to better themselves later in life.”

Young & Homeless 2016

Join us in London on 14 March for our national conference on youth homelessness.

It’s an opportunity to explore the challenges, trends and latest approaches, and to discuss better ways to ensure that everyone who needs the sector’s help can be supported to fulfil their potential and move on.


Talk To Us

Kate Alaway

Conference and events manager

Kate manages our national programme of events that address the latest topics of interest in the homelessness sector. The events include our annual conference, one-day conferences, parliamentary reception and our rolling programme of webinars.

Telephone: 020 7840 4461
Twitter: @ConferenceKate