‘In two weeks on street I could only sleep a bit – I was scared and embarrassed’

Michael Timms is one of the human faces behind ­shocking statistics on a young homelessness crisis that shames Britain.

A poll reveals the young of today are more likely than any other generation to have been homeless before 25.

And beyond the stresses of finding temporary digs or sofa-surfing, they are twice as likely as people now in their 60s to have endured the terrifying experience of sleeping rough.

Michael is one of those who has lived through the ordeal of bedding down on the streets – and has shared his emotional story to help those cold, hard facts sink in for us.

The 18-year-old college student from Poole, Dorset, found himself alone and with nowhere to go in March after leaving home due to family issues.

With no money for rent and no idea where to find help, his ordeal lasted two weeks.

Michael said: “The first night I was scared to sleep, I just walked. I kept myself to myself. The next day I went to college early and managed to wash.

“No one seemed to notice. I got free breakfast and lunch there. For two weeks I didn’t really sleep. It got to zero degrees. I stayed in a car park on top of Primark, in a stairwell.

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“Once, some people came up doing drugs so I walked out.

“I couldn’t concentrate at school, I was always tired. I was embarrassed. I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone. In the end my teacher noticed I wasn’t concentrating or engaging, I broke down and told them.”

Local authorities are only legally obliged to prioritise under-18s for housing, as well as young families and those classed as vulnerable.

Michael’s college referred him to his local authority but it was still almost a month before accommodation was found.

Meanwhile, he was aided by Dorset Nightspot – a donations-funded  charity supported by Action for Children that places young homeless with emergency host families. It was Michael’s only safety net.

He was given a bed that evening and moved around various families across Dorset every few nights.

This went on for 28 nights and his hosts included couple Carl Kemp, 35, and Laura Papp, 33, whose house we meet at for him to tell his story.

Volunteer Simon Keys reveals that Nightstop used to host young people for just two to three nights – but struggling councils are now taking longer and longer to find them ­suitable accommodation.

He said: “If it wasn’t for our wonderful volunteer hosts and local fundraising, many of these homeless young people would have nowhere to turn. The Government must stop the crippling cuts to council budgets.”

For Michael, the story of life on the streets had a happy ending just over a week ago as he finally got independent accommodation in Bournemouth. He now dreams of having a home of his own.

But Michael’s was just one of so many stories playing out on the streets of the UK.

In a survey spanning five generations, homelessness charity Centrepoint found the young are more vulnerable than ever thanks to growing up in insecure private rentals and then not being able to afford to rent without financial aid.

In 2017/18, some 103,000 young people approached local authorities for help because they were homeless or at risk of homelessness. Centrepoint’s poll, marking its 50th anniversary, reveals that of those asked if they had been homeless before 25, 11% of 18 to 29-year-olds admitted sleeping rough compared with just 5% of people in their sixties now.

Of the younger group, 14% had been forced to stay somewhere they did not feel safe compared with 6% of those in their 60s. And 20% revealed they had sofa-surfed because they could not afford a room – compared with 8% of the oldest group.

Centrepoint chief executive Seyi Obakin said: “It has become much, much more difficult for young people to leave home and live independently. But for the homeless young people Centrepoint supports, who cannot move back home, or depend on ­financial support from family members, these challenges can be ­insurmountable.

“For the first time we are seeing young people who are worse off than their parents and grandparents ever were.

“Yet I believe we all want to live in a society that opens doors for the next generation, rather than forcing them on to the street.”

  • For information and support, visit centrepoint.org.uk

'Living with strangers in hostel made me so anxious'

I was homeless at 14 when my family had to leave our rented flat in Bournemouth, Dorset.

The landlord asked us to move out, but as we didn’t have the high deposit for a new place, we had to declare ourselves homeless.

I felt embarrassed, and didn’t tell anyone. Knowing you don’t have a home, and having no control over that, and living with strangers, makes you feel really anxious.

I’ve never felt so vulnerable.

We were placed in a B&B being used as a hostel for the homeless by the council, for six months.

When people asked, I said we had moved into my uncle’s hotel.

Some of the people who came in the hostel were involved with drugs and drink, and that scared me.

My sister and I wouldn’t go anywhere on our own.

The worst moment was when another homeless man staying in the hostel tried to commit suicide.

Suicide

We’d got to know him and he was nice. Then we were in bed one night, and heard sirens and saw flashing lights. We never saw him again.

My mum and step-dad slept in twin beds, and my sister and I were in bunk beds – all in the same room.

We shared an en suite.

There was no privacy. There was no room for our stuff. I just had a bag of clothes. There was one microwave and we ate ready meals on our beds.

I think partly because eating was difficult, and because I was so anxious, I developed an eating disorder and lost weight.

It was a struggle to relax. You’d hear people arguing.

Some of the families with young children were very nice, but everyone was in a stressful situation.

I used to stay out at friends houses, after school clubs or the library – anywhere rather than be there.

I couldn’t do homework in the room very easily, so late at night when it was quieter me and my sister would go to the dining room to do it.

Sometimes I would be still be doing it at 4am. I’m so happy I’m not there anymore. I have only just started telling people what happened to me.

Although I know a little bit about what being homeless, I can’t imagine what it is like for a young person to be alone and sleeping rough.

No one should ever have to find themselves in that situation.

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