Prince William today launched Britain’s Centrepoint hotline for homeless youth by listening in to the first call, from a teenager who had found himself sleeping rough on the streets of London.
Clearly moved as the teenager outlined his plight to Centrepoint adviser Carys Lewis, William later asked to be kept informed of the young man’s progress.
Britain’s first nationwide helpline for 16 to 25-year-olds facing homelessness is now taking calls – in the hope that young people will get the help they need to stop them plunging into the downward spiral that homelessness can often cause.
The need for the helpline was graphically demonstrated by the first call to the freephone number.
The teenager said a breakdown in the relationship with his family meant it was no longer possible for him to return home.
Instead he had been forced to seek shelter in all-night cafes or sleep rough exposed to the recent freezing cold weather.
He said he had been robbed twice while sleeping rough.
With the Prince listening, Lewis advised the teenager on how to get into an emergency winter homelessness shelter. It wasn’t ideal, she told him, but it would at least get him off the streets.During the 20-minute call, Lewis told the teenager about more long-term solutions. She texted details of a day centre for young people, which she said, would be “able to help you with your housing, with benefits, with getting into work and with your health”.
The teenager told Lewis he had already sought help from his local council – to no avail because he was deemed to have “low support needs”, since he had not been in care and did not have mental health issues.
After the call ended, Lewis explained to William: “There’s only so much the council can do unless he has other [higher priority] needs.”
William congratulated Lewis, telling her that the way she had handled such a sensitive call had been “really good”.
He stressed how important it was that the helpline workers would be able to provide a sympathetic voice for young people who might feel desperate and alone.
“If nothing else,” he told Lewis, “You take the time to listen to them and tell them their options.”
William then went through a practice call with Centrepoint staff member Samia Meah, where she pretended to be a young person at risk of eviction for rent arrears.
He joked after the call: “You didn’t hang up on me. That’s a good start”.
One of the key reasons for the creation of the new helpline has been to address a situation where, Centrepoint estimates, up to one in three young people are being turned away by local councils in England when they seek help with homelessness.
Frontline Centrepoint workers have also described the helpline as something that will save lives and a “lifeline” that hasn’t come a moment too soon.
Seyi Obakin, chief executive of Centrepoint, said he was delighted William, who is patron of the charity, had come in person to see the helpline launch.
Obakin said: “It is a signal of how important he himself sees the helpline as being, and how much difference he thinks the helpline will make to young people. That’s why he personally wanted to be here to launch it.”
“This is an important day, and not just for those who are [currently] homeless. Because homelessness is not that far away – it can happen to anyone – and what the helpline is going to do is give those who are homeless a lifeline.”
In New Zealand, those who urgently need somewhere to stay overnight or in the next seven-day period should call 0800 559 009 or go into the nearest Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Service Centre.
In Australia, Homelessness Australia works in collaboration with homelessness assistance services, state and national homelessness organisations. See homelessnessaustralia.org.au for contacts in your state.