Hogmanay from hell turned into a year to remember

Byte Night is an annual sleep out in support of Action for Children. Picture: TSPL
Byte Night is an annual sleep out in support of Action for Children. Picture: TSPL
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Hostels can help support change, says Charlie Halliday

I BECAME homeless on Boxing Day. There were some issues which made it impossible for me to stay at home. After a huge fight I was told I had to get out. I knew that leaving was the right thing to do, so I went. I packed a large suitcase with as many of my clothes as I could fit in it. It was a dry but very cold day, just before Hogmanay, and I remember thinking that 2014 was going to be the worst year imaginable. It has been a very difficult one, but the support of Action for Children Scotland has really helped.

I spent that first night with a friend and in the morning the homeless response unit told me I could have a room at a service called New Horizons. Living in a small community, I had heard of New Horizons and I thought it was a homeless hostel. When I arrived I found it is special accommodation for homeless young people in East Lothian, run by Action for Children Scotland. It has 11 private bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a big kitchen and a cosy wee room called the den.

I didn’t think I was going to like New Horizons at all. I decided that I would sleep there at night, but nothing more. I would get up in the morning and go out for the whole day. I didn’t want to get to know any of the other people. I planned to keep myself to myself. Of course, that didn’t last! It can be a bit crazy sometimes, as you would expect living with 10 other people, but we all get on really well.

Only people aged 16-25 can stay at New Horizons. I think that’s important – I have heard stories about boys my age being placed in homeless accommodation with men in their 50s, where drugs and alcohol were everywhere. It’s not like that at New Horizons. There are staff on hand 24/7 and we are well cared for, although they also help us learn how to look after ourselves so that we are prepared for living alone. Young people can stay at New Horizons for up to 18 months, after that it should be possible to get social housing. We learn about budgeting and keeping a house clean and tidy. It probably seems funny, but we are also taught things like how to change a lightbulb and defrost a freezer. Not all young people grow up in families where their parents pass on these skills. Everyone at New Horizons has faced difficulties at home

I never had to sleep rough, but that’s only thanks Action for Children Scotland. Looking back, I was in a very vulnerable position. I couldn’t go home, and I couldn’t have stayed with friends forever. I had no idea what I was going to do.

A few weeks ago I stood up in a room of complete strangers and told them about how I became homeless. I was speaking at the launch of Byte Night Edinburgh, a sponsored sleep-out in aid of Action for Children Scotland’s youth homelessness services – and I was petrified!

Now I have gone one step further by writing about my experiences in a national newspaper that will be read by tens of thousands of people. Believe me, this is nerve-wracking.

But I am doing it because I want to help people understand how teenagers like me end up homeless, and how charities like Action for Children Scotland can help.Who knows, I might even inspire some readers to take part in Byte Night Edinburgh and spend the night sleeping rough – so young people like me don’t have to.

• This article was supplied by Action For Children, www.actionforchildren.org.uk

Byte Night is the business and technology industry’s annual sleep out in support of Action for Children. Each year thousands of people from across the business and technology community spend a night exposed to the elements in a bid to raise money for and awareness of Action for Children’s youth homelessness services. Byte Night Edinburgh takes place on Friday, 3 October. To find out more, visit bytenight.org.uk


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