Could you open your family home up to a homeless young man or woman? That’s what four families in Wyre Forest do.
In the second part of our investigation into homelessness in north Worcestershire, we meet the people who help put troubled teens onto a new path.
“At first it was strange having someone we’d never met in our home, but it’s really not a big undertaking. We’re not doing anything very special. We have the space, and these young people need somewhere safe to stay,”
Meet Alison and Hugh Burton, one of four host families who work with Wyre Forest Nightstop charity to support young homeless people who need emergency accommodation, often after being kicked out of home, or who have left to avoid confrontation or abuse, or for a range of other reasons..
Together the host families provided an emergency bed on 127 separate occasions in 2017.
That meant dozens of young people who might have otherwise ended up in a homeless shelter, or even sleeping rough, were instead welcomed into a loving family home where they received food, a bed and a listening ear.
Says Alison, a part time cycling proficiency trainer: “It’s been an eye opener for us. We live a very settled, happy life and our relationships with our four children have always been good.
“We both come from stable families, so to meet people who have been thrown out for whatever reason, or have ended up homeless because life has been so difficult for them – that is a real eye opener.”
“It’s lovely to have a very small hand in helping someone who is struggling.”
Listen: Alison Burton talks about her experiences as an emergency host for homeless young people
The couple signed up as a host family in 2012 after hearing how desperate the need was for families happy to provide a bed for the night for a young man or woman who was otherwise homeless.
“At the time our children had pretty much all left home. We live in a large rectory (husband Hugh is a team rector for Kidderminster East parish, overseeing five churches) so it just hit me between the eyes that this was something we could do.”
The couple, like all host families, were closely vetted and received training before being accepted for the scheme six years ago. They have since provided dozens of nights of help, supporting 30 young people in total.
Usually it’s a fleeting encounter, of one or two nights; occasionally, an extended stay of several nights is needed while longer term accommodation is found.
One of the young people they helped recently was Dan, 18.
“He had stayed with us just before Christmas and we were happy to invite him to join us for Christmas lunch. It was lovely.”
Dan says of the experience: “As soon as I walked into the house the atmosphere was very welcoming. From my past experiences I didn’t know what to expect…but it was great.”
Dan is now back in education, has secured a two year tenancy in a local housing project, is receiving counselling support and regularly volunteers for the charity that supported him.
“I’m smiling now. I can see a future. I see the world in a more positive light. When your situation changes, everything else changes.”
Said Alison: “Some of the young people can be very quiet, some can be over-confident and you know that’s a front really. We are not given many details about what has been the problem so we don’t pry too much. You have to be careful not to do what we are not trained to do – they have social workers and professionals supporting them. But we listen if they want to talk.”
“I don’t have any answers to the problem of homelessness. It is often about relationships really, and their breakdown.
“Coming here briefly can give them a little experience of how relationships can be – it’s not much but it’s better than nothing.”
The young people are always interviewed and assessed for suitability before they are driven to the emergency hosts by a Nightstop team member.
Charity chief executive Judith Ford said the host families provide an invaluable service to young people, giving them the space to ‘reset’ while a package of support and a way forward is worked out.
They might have been thrown out of home, or ran away from violence or abuse. They might have had a row with mum or dad, and everyone involved just needs a timeout to catch their breath.
A short term tenancy might have ended, or a relationship with a partner or friend has broken down.
Whatever the cause of the misery, the Burtons and three other host families are waiting, happy to be “the port in a storm”.
“They provide an incredibly important service for us and the young people we support.
The final word goes to Alison:
“It’s a very small thing we do and lots of people could do it.”
Do you think you could provide support to someone in an emergency? Or could you support Wyre Forest Nightstop in any other way? Contact Wyre Forest Nightstop if you think you can help by calling 01562 743111.
Visit the charity’s website at www.wyreforestnightstop.org.uk
Have you experienced homelessness or do you live with the uncertainty of not having a place to truly call home? We’d love to speak to you about your story. Contact Jane Haynes at Wyrelife on 0754 564 2583 or message her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jane.haynes.39 or Twitter @janerockhouse