A new documentary airs on More4 next week, highlighting the vital work of the Nightstop initiative, run by Depaul UK, in preventing youth homelessness.
Nightstop – Would You Take In a Stranger (Tuesday 11 July, 10pm, More4) meets three young people helped by the service, which matches youngsters who need a bed in a moment of crisis with an ordinary person or family.
With homelessness having risen dramatically since 2010, and more than 83,000 young people identifying as homeless last year, the importance of preventing even a single night on the streets cannot be overstated.
The Big Issue launched its Prevention Manifesto ahead of the recent General Election in a bid to encourage politicians to target resources towards fighting to prevent poverty, rather than only tackling its symptoms.
I am 16 years old. Never in my life did I think I would be in a situation where I don’t know where I will be going to sleep
The new documentary shows both the complex needs facing young homeless people in the UK, but also the clear positive impact that taking a young person in for the night can have on the person providing the accommodation.
Viewers are introduced to Kieran (main pic, above), aged just 16, from Newcastle. He is about to start his exams, but the latest argument with his stepdad has led to him feeling forced to leave home with nowhere to go.
“I never thought I would be homeless,” Kieran says in the film. “I’m waiting for a call from Nightstop – if I don’t get somewhere to stay tonight, the chances are I will be on the street.
“It will be really scary, I will be out of my depth. I am 16 years old, never in my life did I think I would be in a situation where I don’t know where I will be going to sleep. It is a big distraction, all of this, from school.”
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
The cameras follow him as he stays in three different people’s homes in three days, just weeks before he sits his GCSEs. While Kieran is leaving his belongings at his school – the Nightstop team are looking at finding something more permanent for the youngster.
“Just one night can make such a difference. Often night can prevent dangerous situations, and also offer some hope that people do care,” says Nightstop worker Deborah.
“Kieran would not be able to manage on the streets. He is far too vulnerable and far too young. He would be open to abuse, he would be a target.”
Also featured in the documentary is 21-year-old Dandi from Brighton (below), who has fallen out with her mother and required the use of Nightstop many times in the past five years.
“I have been questioned by a youth worker whether I was actually homeless or not, just because I was well presented and smiley. I’m not sure they understand,” she says, highlighting again that people who are homeless do not conform to widely held stereotypical ideas of what a homeless person looks like.
Dandi is able to spend a night at the home of Ruth, who has been offering her spare room to Nightstop since surviving cancer six years ago.
“I have been given a chance, I am lucky to be here, so if I can help, that is great,” she tells the film-makers. “I’ve got a spare room. It is only a little box room, but it is a comfy bed and I am really lucky I can offer it to someone. In a way it is really selfish. Because I get such a good feeling that I can offer it to people.”
This series will take an unflinching look at poverty in the UK
The final participant is Paul, 24 (below), who faces a race against time to find more permanent accommodation, as Nightstop can only offer assistance to under-25s.
The new documentary is the latest to look at poverty and homelessness in recent times. Jimmy McGovern’s drama Broken, which ended this week, looked at poverty and faith, and its star Sean Bean, playing local priest, railed against Fixed Odds Betting Machines in a dramatic finale.
An upcoming documentary, Breadline, also looks at people living in poverty. The series, made by the same company and employing the same methods as Bafta-winning series Exodus, which charted refugee journeys across Europe, is filming now.
It aims to show the realities of life for some of the 1.7million families now living in poverty in the UK, despite being in work.
Programme makers say: “These films will chart people’s lives over the course of a year, in homes across the whole of the UK, against the background of an ever-changing political and economic landscape.
“What is it like to have to choose between being warm or fed? To sleep at work because you can’t afford to travel home? To water down the milk to make it last longer?
“At a time when the government has pledged to shave £12 billion from the welfare bill, this series will take an unflinching look at poverty in the UK.”