Just a few months ago shortly after coming home from Uni for the summer Teenboy became an arse.
He was a rude, disrespectful, incredibly angry, abusive, cruel, party animal who turned our calm and happy home into a battlefield where we all walked on eggshells.
That is, until he lost his temper one time too many. He shouted and swore and railed at me. He blamed me, he ranted at me, he called me names and screamed at me that I’d failed him.
And then he stormed out.
He didn’t return home for 3 months and in that time we talked only once.
But luckily for him and for me, he had my parents to go and live with.
If he hadn’t had that I dread to think where he would’ve ended up.
But one thing’s sure, if he’d disappeared that night and I didn’t know where he was staying despite him being a 19 year old adult I would’ve reported him to the police as a missing person.
Just a week ago I went out in London’s Kings Cross with outreach workers who try their damndest to help young people living on the streets.
And the whole time I was walking around the streets of Kings Cross in the biting freezing December cold I don’t think I’ve ever felt so grateful to have not lost teenboy to our city’s streets.
What Hell Must They Be Running From?
There are children and young people living on the streets of all our cities, not just London, who have never experienced parental support or love. For them, sleeping rough is better than living at home.
I can’t even begin to imagine the hell their homelives must have been. It took me an hour to heat up after being out in the biting cold wind of that December night. I can’t imagine spending day and night being that cold but I can imagine wanting to be free from an emotionally freezing cold home where violence or emotional abuse is the norm.
I cannot picture a life that is so bad that I would rather sell myself for sex than go home. I can’t begin to imagine sleeping outside with danger at every turn: drugs, pimps, paedophiles, thieves, people who take advantage, victimise and brutalise again and again.
But sometimes, just sometimes it’s one argument too many that sends a teenager hurtling onto our streets. It can be the high emotion of simply being a teenager, the feeling that nobody understands them, the pain of trying to fit in and failing, the fear of disappointing parents and friends. Sometimes, just sometimes it can be just one tiny thing that tips them over the edge and then the stubbornness borne of being a teenager will prevent them from returning home. Or they think you don’t want them cos they’re too much work, too emotional, too angry, too hurt, too teenager. And so they stay there on the streets that will ruin them forever.
As cold day turned to freezing night Pete Middleton, an outreach worker specialising in helping young homeless people from New Horizon Youth Centre took me out with him on his rounds of the 3 train stations in and around Kings Cross and the surrounding streets.
As we walked and talked Pete constantly kept a keen (and very experienced) eye out for any child or young person his intuition told him could be vulnerable or homeless.
It’s Pete and his team’s job to reach out to these young people night after night, to spend time with them in the hope of gaining their trust so they can help them. If they’re over 16 he’ll try over and over to get them to come along to the New Horizon Youth Centre where they’ll find structure, food, a shower, help and advice to get a roof over their heads and, hopefully, a future.
I was amazed when Pete told me that the majority of young people they help have never been reported as missing.
And it’s a sad fact that New Horizon and other similar projects are unable to physically help under 16s. They HAVE to refer them to social services.
Sadly, a lot of these homeless children have run away from social services involvement in their lives, or their family has put the fear of god into them as regards the power of social services and they’re terrified of them despite the good work we know they often do.
And too often these homeless children just can’t see that social services can help them and sadly they’ll do their utmost to not be found again.
And unbelievably just like the over 16’s many of these children have never been reported missing.
Take Care This Christmas
As we run full speed into one of the most emotionally difficult times of the year with hopes of family tranquility and expectations of family arguments before the turkey has even been carved please stop and consider that each and every one of us could be just one argument away from losing a child or teenager to the streets of our cities.
Please talk to your children. Make them aware of the realities of living on the streets. If you can, take them to your closest city on a freezing cold evening forget their hats and gloves and walk them around for an hour. Sit with them on a bench or a wall for just 15 minutes.
And when they complain about being cold explain to them that woman or girl over there in the sleeping bag begging for money has been out in that cold all day and will be out in it all night because they don’t have a house.
Explain to them that no matter what they do that you will always love them and support them. Tell them that everybody makes mistakes and you’ll forgive every one of theirs just like you did when they were toddlers.
Tonight, can I ask you to hug your child and tell them that you will always love them no matter who they are or what they do with their life.
Find out more about New Horizon Youth Centre
New Horizon are financially helped by The Railway Children
Read more on how to talk to your child about homelessness at Mumsnet
The Railway Children are supported by Aviva. They’ll give the charity £2 every time you comment on one of the discussions on Mumsnet (see above)