REAL LIFE: A Norwich teenager has told the Norwich Evening News of her horror at living on the streets and how she has been saved from a life of homelessness by YMCA Norfolk, which has since helped her turn her life around, as Peter Walsh reports.
Earlier this year, Chelsea Evans, 19, spent three “horrible” nights living rough on the streets of Norwich with her then boyfriend, before being taken in at the YMCA's £2.9m Norwich Central in All Saints Green.
The youngster from Lakenham, who left school at 15, found herself homeless in January this year and, with nowhere else to turn to, resorted to sleeping rough outside the back of the Iceland store in the city centre.
Chelsea's stay on the streets might have been longer had it not been for the intervention of the team at Norwich's YMCA, which has been instrumental in helping the teen get her life back on track.
Chelsea has decided to tell her story - not only to warn others about the perils of life on the street, but to give others in a similar position hope that there is help out there.
“I met my boyfriend and was living at home at the time,” she said. “He was homeless and had been for ages. We went to stay at my nan's, but she couldn't put us up anymore and we then stayed at my mum's for a few nights, but she couldn't have us because we were arguing.”
Chelsea, originally from Lakenham, made the decision to leave home.
“We were sofa surfing with friends, but couldn't stay there any longer,” said the former Hewett School pupil, who then sought help from Norwich City Council.
But Chelsea, who had part-time work as a cleaner at Notre Dame High School, said that they were told not much could be done for them as they had intentionally made themselves homeless and because at 19 and 20 years old respectively they were not considered “vulnerable”.
“We then went to stay behind Iceland for a few nights,” she said. “We stayed behind there for three nights. It was really cold. Every noise I heard I was really jumpy. It was really frightening; really scary. Every night we went back there our sleeping bags had been thrown in the bins.”
Chelsea said the couple went to the soup kitchen run by the Salvation Army at 10pm every night to get some much-needed food as they prepared for another long night in the cold and wintery conditions.
“It was sleeting and slushy,” said Chelsea, who after three nights on the street approached the council again before being thrown a lifeline by YMCA at the All Saints Green site, which opened in January.
It serves the accommodation needs of 16 to 25 year olds, both male and female, from across the county and has 34 en suite bedrooms and support facilities, including a restaurant, communal lounges, and a fitness area.
“They got us in here,” she said. “It's been really good; they've helped me sort out all my problems. They've taken me on and helped me with everything. It's not just a room; they've been doing a lot of other stuff and I'm going back to college to do my GCSEs and they're helping me with that. Hopefully I should be getting my own flat. It's something I never imagined when I was on the streets.”
Chelsea, who said she would like to work with children with Down's Syndrome, added: “I feel sorry for people on the streets now - I wouldn't want to be in that situation again,” she said. “I feel I would be ready to go out and be by myself. I would recommend the YMCA to anyone.”
Tim Sweeting, chief executive officer of YMCA Norfolk, said he hoped Chelsea's story would serve as a warning to other youngsters.
“Chelsea's story shows how easy it is for young people to become homeless and the great risks that exist for them when they do,” he said.
“The YMCA plays a vital role, in partnership with other agencies, by responding in times of crisis such as this. Housing is the most obvious element of this response, but our mission is wider than this. We aim to bring hope and transformation through empowering young people like Chelsea to make positive choices for their future.”
To contact Norwich Central YMCA, call 01603 877950.
Article and picture courtesy of www.eveningnews24.co.uk (Author: )
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