Herald Express (Torbay, Brixham & South Hams Edition)

Urgent appeal for hosts with room to help young people sleeping on streets

- By MARY STENSON mary,.stenson@reachplc.com @DevonLiveN­ews

PEOPLE in Torbay are being asked to offer a spare room in their homes to prevent young people from sleeping on the streets, with the need for volunteers described as “urgent”.

The South Devon branch of emergency accommodat­ion service Nightstop has put out an urgent call for volunteers who are willing to take in a homeless person for the night.

Volunteers provide their guest with a safe place to stay, a hot meal and the opportunit­y to wash while Nightstop staff work to find longer term accommodat­ion.

The emergency accommodat­ion service is managed by youth homelessne­ss charity Depaul UK, which has branches across the country. The South Devon Nightstop service covers Torbay and is delivered by the YMCA.

Volunteers who offer a room are trained and vetted before taking someone in. In 2023, they provided 200 nights of accommodat­ion for young people at risk of homelessne­ss and rough sleeping.

Lydia Kendall-McDougall, Nightstop and Supported Lodgings Network Officer, said: “Our volunteers are the lifeblood which keeps our vital service running. They have one thing in common – they want to make sure no young person sleeps in an unsafe place ever again. We support hosts and guests every step of the way which offers them great peace of mind. It’s such a fantastic initiative to be part of.”

One of Nightstop’s volunteers is 77-year-old RAF veteran Tony who lives in a three-bedroom bungalow in Paignton with his wife Clare and their two cats. He says he hosts young people because he’d like to think someone else would do the same for his children if they were facing difficulti­es.

He says it’s a “rewarding” gesture but admits it can be hard not knowing what happens to their guests after they leave.

Tony said: “Clare and I enjoy hosting. We don’t have people all the time, but when they arrive with their Nightstop co-ordinator often they’ll just want to go to their room, which we’ve set up for them with a TV, clean linen, and an Echo Dot so they can listen to music or whatever they want to do. The most important thing we can do as hosts is be led by the young person. Hosting is rewarding, it’s a small thing that we do, which could have a huge impact on someone else just starting to find their way in life.

“When they must leave the next day, I’ll pack them a lunch, and wish them the best. It’s hard not knowing what happens after that, but we have done our job, and we are only here to provide help at a particular time when they are most vulnerable.”

Youth support worker Jo is another one of Nightstop’s Devon volunteers. She lives with her partner Mark and their dog Luna and they host people at their home frequently. She says they have “never felt at risk” when offering their spare room.

Jo said: “When I tell people for the first time that we host young people, at risk of homelessne­ss in our home for the night as and when they need, they’re often surprised. Questions I often get asked include ‘aren’t you anxious about letting a stranger into your home?’

“My response is always ‘any concerns we initially had is nothing compared to the anxiety the homeless young people are feeling. As hosts we have never felt at risk. Imagine sleeping rough, or sofa surfing, for days or weeks then turning up at the house of someone you don’t know, to stay the night.’

“These are young people, usually in their late teens, left homeless through no fault of their own – some have been victims of domestic violence, or have parents who don’t want, or can’t help them. Nine times out of 10 they just want to stay in their room, often exhausted, but happy for somewhere clean, safe, and warm to stay for the night.”

A 19-year-old, referred to only as K to protect their identity, now lives in a house share in Paignton after being hosted in a spare room. He became homeless at the age of 18 after fleeing his family home which had become unbearable.

K said: “There’s six people in my house now, we all share a kitchen and bathroom, the neighbours can be loud at times, but mostly it’s ok, and I’m grateful for a place to live until I can afford something else. It’s better than the alternativ­e, which is sofa surfing, or sleeping rough.

“I’ve always been hard-working, and somehow I managed to stay in college throughout my period of homelessne­ss. I’m doing an apprentice­ship in bricklayin­g and constructi­on and I was at college one day when I heard about Nightstop. I gave them a call and was invited to meet someone from the service pretty much the same day. I told them I was barely getting by sofa surfing, and they quickly found a local couple who volunteere­d for the service who were willing to host me for the night. I was so relieved to have somewhere proper to sleep – a warm comfortabl­e room, bed, a hot meal, and a shower. The couple that hosted me are legends, and their kindness means more to me than they’ll ever know.”

» More informatio­n about volunteeri­ng with Nightstop South Devon is at www.depaul.org.uk/nightstop/

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In South Devon are being asked to offer a room for a night to stop young people sleeping rough bodnarchuk

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