Back on course

Linda Green talks to young people at a long-stay hostel about
how homelessness has affected them and hears of their determination
not to be excluded from society.

Lindsey feels like her life is one big game of pass the parcel.
Unfortunately she is the parcel, the one being tossed around from
place to place, person to person. And no one ever stops to ask her
how she feels about that.

Lindsey is 17 and homeless. She lives in a hostel in Manchester,
the latest in a long line of temporary accommodation she has lived
in since the age of 14. She never wanted it to turn out this way.
But the adults in Lindsey’s life have had a horrible knack of
letting her down.

When she was two Lindsey was abused by her grandfather. She was
taken from her teenage mother and put into foster care. She
remembers that she liked her foster parents and did not want to
leave them. But at the age of six she was adopted and went to live
with a new family.

She says: “It was hard adapting to another family. I would meet
new people and be told they were my auntie and uncle. There was
always a brick wall there with my adoptive mum. When she hugged me
I used to flinch.”

When Lindsey was 14, her adoptive parents went away on holiday,
leaving her home alone. She invited some friends round. Inevitably,
things got out of hand and the house was trashed and some jewellery
stolen. When her adoptive parents got back, they were far from

Lindsey explains: “I went out and they telephoned me on my
mobile and told me not to bother coming back. I didn’t know what to
do so I went to stay at a friend’s house.”

She stayed with the friend and her mother for over a year, her
adoptive parents paying towards her upkeep. But when her friend got
pregnant, Lindsey had to move on again. Her adoptive parents still
refused to have her back. Instead, her father dropped her off at a
hostel. She was just 16.

“I cried all night,” she says. “I’d come from school and he took
me there in my uniform, left my bag on the doorstep and gave the
woman at the hostel a tenner. I was just abandoned – again. I
didn’t have a clue where to start. I was 14 and then I felt like I
was 20, and it all happened in one day. Other teenagers used to
worry about make-up and trainers, I was worrying because I didn’t
have any food to eat that night.”

Lindsey dropped out of school, fell in with the wrong crowd and
got involved with drink and drugs. She got evicted from one hostel,
moved in with her boyfriend, whom she left when he was violent
towards her, and stayed in various hostels in Manchester before
arriving at the Burnage Lane Project, a long-stay hostel for 16 to
25-year-olds run by the De Paul Trust.

She says: “It’s much better here, the staff give you more
support and encouragement. Sometimes I get upset about being
homeless and I know I can go into the office and talk to any of
them about it. They also arrange useful things like language
lessons, cooking classes and help with budgeting.”

In September, Lindsey is due to start a GNVQ computing course at
college. She is determined to get her life back on track. But her
experiences have left her angry at the way society treats young
people in her position.

“People think because you live in a hostel you’re a prostitute
or a drug taker but most people in here have just had problems with
their families. People outside don’t realise that. The fact is it
could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.

“Politicians haven’t got a clue. If you put them in a hostel for
a week, gave them £42 and left them to see how they got on,
maybe then they’d understand. That’s what they should do, a Big
Brother where they put Tony Blair in a hostel.”

David, aged 16, from Chorlton, Manchester, says relations with
his parents got so bad that he once ran away from home 30 times in
one week.

“I slept on a bus for three days once before the police found
me,” he says. “I was put in a care home. They telephoned my
parents, who said they didn’t want me back so they had to get an
order to make them take me back.”

In April this year, David decided he’d had enough. His new
social worker helped him get a place at the Burnage Lane Project.
He hasn’t told his friends at school that he is living in a hostel
but says his teachers know and are very supportive.

David will start a motor vehicle college course in September. He
is fiercely independent and says more should be done to help people
in his situation. “There should be more family support and 24-hour
helplines for young people to call if they need to leave home. And
there should be hostels for children under 16.”

Simon, aged 17, also became homeless due to family problems. He
says: “I was adopted and I didn’t get on well with my adoptive
parents. I got in trouble with the police and my parents threatened
to kick me out when I was 15. When I was 16 they asked me to leave
and the police came and took my house keys off me.

“I stayed in a bed and breakfast in Salford for the first couple
of months. It was really hard. You get friendly with people and
then they’re off after a few days. I didn’t cope at all. I’m a
drinker and I drank every day, that was my way of coping.

“After that I was at a back-packers’ hostel for two months. It
was very unsettling, people were always moving away. Every time I
made a friend, people moved on.”

Now happily settled at the Burnage Lane Project, Simon is on the
government’s Gateway scheme – the initial part of the New Deal job
and training initiative – and is hoping to go to college and get a
job in the leisure industry.

He believes young people’s views should be listened to. “Local
authorities should listen to young kids rather than just listening
to the parents. At the end of the day they’re speaking about the
kids so they should have the biggest voice.”

All names of young people in this article have been changed
to protect identities.

Further details about Gateway and the New Deal

My life

Seventeen-year-old Claire Creedon describes how the loss of her
mother has radically changed her outlook on life.

To be told your mother’s got cancer when you are only nine, it
doesn’t seem real, there’s no threat – she’s your mum. When you’re
15 and told for the third time that the cancer has returned, then
you understand how dangerous it’s become. Leading up to her death
our lives couldn’t have been happier. She was a walking medical
miracle – bursting with heath and uncontrollable happiness. Feeling
the tears falling as you’re told you’ll lose her, feels like a film
this is all a cruel joke and soon it’ll be over. Then when you, and
the people surrounding you are hysterically crying, as you watch
the most amazing woman, with a heart of sheer gold, being pumped
full of morphine, dying, slowly before your eyes, the reality still
doesn’t become clear. Sitting, crowded around her, 24 hours a day,
waiting for the inevitable, reality still isn’t there. When the
sister you love beyond all measure, sits crying next to you,
begging your mother not to leave her, nothing’s real. Even when
you’re reading at the funeral it’s all still illusion. It’s the
quiet times, when you’ve stopped for just that second, and the
realisation of what’s been lost hits you and that searing agony

My world has changed. There will always be a part of me that no
one else will ever truly understand. I am forever slightly
separated, and this mere truth of what I’ve been through can scare
others all too easily. To those who freeze every time the mention
of mothers is made in my presence, realise that loneliness is just
about the scariest thing there is, don’t inflict it on me.

It has been 16 months now, and my film still hasn’t ended;
sometimes those split seconds when I wake there’s a moment, where
the movie has not even begun. It’s a lie, time doesn’t heal, wounds
like this don’t. It’s an ache, an ache that never dies, but you can
learn how to bear it. My dad tells me I have to look my reality in
the eye and never run from it – or I could be running forever. Once
you realise that this life is what you have, then you can find some
kind of peace, and learn happiness again. Bottom line is, you’re
never ready for the big moments, no one asks for their life to
change, but it does. The big moments are going to come, but it’s
what you do afterwards that counts, it’s what you do with that
pain, that’s when you find out who you are.

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