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Here’s what 24,000 homeless youngsters could eat this Christmas

Microwaved pilchards and rice or discarded pizza are on the menu according to youth homelessness charity Centrepoint’s research

More than 24,000 young people affected by homelessness this Christmas may not get a turkey dinner, instead facing the grim prospective of microwaved pilchards or discarded pizza for their festive meal.

Youth homelessness charity Centrepoint made the warning as they enlisted their ambassador, celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, to demonstrate the dramatic difference between the Christmas dinner most people receive and the reality for those forced to go without.

On the one side is the turkey with all the trimmings, the Christmas pudding, the pigs in blankets, the cheese and chocolates we all gorge ourselves on every Christmas.

On the other is pilchards and rice, discarded pizza, microwave meals, fast food and leftovers: all items youngsters told Centrepoint they have eaten on Christmas day when they had not other choice — if they got a meal at all.

Zilli said: “Having experienced homelessness myself, and eaten discarded pizza from the back of a restaurant on Christmas Day, I’m proud to be able to support Centrepoint this year.

“While most of us worry about supermarket queues and buying enough stuffing to feed the family, many homeless young people will be spending Christmas alone, scared and without a decent meal.”

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Households spend, on average, £127 on festive food every year, rising to £171 if they live in London, according to an Opinium survey of UK adults on behalf of Centrepoint.

But more than a fifth of people quizzed admit to cooking too much and throwing away leftovers and one in ten insist that they have been forced to bin unopened food.

Centrepoint’s campaign is aiming to show the harsh realities that 24,000 young people faced while they were homeless last Christmas. The charity is urging people to avoid buying food that they don’t need and instead buying a warm meal for a youngster who needs it by donating £10.

Gareth, from Barnsley, was supported by Centrepoint in the past after suffering the heart-breaking loss of his mother just days before Christmas.

With the charity’s support he turned his life around to securing his own flat and work at the Department of Education.

He said: “Christmas was always a difficult time for me but I felt that while at Centrepoint they did their best to make me feel someone cared, something you don’t expect when you’re not with family.

“They provided a food hamper and presents, put up decorations and lights too because it’s a time you start thinking about your family and they make a special effort to pick up the mood and remind you that people care.”

Isabel Rice, Centrepoint’s senior dietitian, warns that the Covid-19 pandemic has already affected how young people access food. London School of Economics research released last month warned that more than one in ten 16 to 25 year olds had lost their job due to the pandemic and many work in the retail sector that continues to be badly hit with the collapse of Debenhams and the Arcadia Group.

This has left youngsters struggling to pay for food while the pandemic has also made it more difficult to get help from their support network.

Rice said: “Christmas is different for every homeless young person. Some are able to spend time with family or friends, but some don’t have that support and are isolated.

“We worry that lots of homeless young people who would usually gather in groups may not be able to do so this year, or if they’d generally stay with older relatives, they may not be able to do that.”

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