What's it like to be young and homeless at Christmas?
For thousands of young people, Christmas is not the happy time it should be.
While most of us will be rushing around buying presents and planning the Christmas dinner, we estimate over 18,000 young people will be at risk of homelessness this Christmas.
We recently conducted research to explore young people’s experiences of homelessness over the Christmas period. It’s often the time of year when homelessness is very much in the minds of the public, particularly when we see people sleeping rough during the coldest weather.
Christmas is a lonely time for homeless young people
Many of the young people we talked to described a period of intense loneliness. At a time when we often come together with our family and loves ones, to be homeless and without support at this time of year is devastating. Centrepoint research found that nine in ten homeless young people felt no one cared about them while they were sleeping rough.
"I felt very lonely. I felt like I didn't have anyone around me. I felt alone at Christmas," says Jai, a Centrepoint young person.
For others, Christmas brings up painful memories. Many had experienced very difficult childhoods which weren't filled with the happy Christmas memories that many of us take for granted.
"From the age of nine up until I was 18, all of my Christmases were with foster carers, but I wasn't into Christmas. I didn't like opening presents, I didn't like having a Christmas dinner, I didn't like the whole family getting together. It sets off my anxiety... It's still a time of year that brings up bad memories," says Zara, another young person we interviewed.
Christmas can be the breaking point
We also heard how Christmas can be an incredibly stressful time of year for some. The additional pressure it brings can push struggling families to breaking point.
Family breakdown is the biggest cause of youth homelessness in England, and around two-thirds of young people supported by Centrepoint are homeless due to family breakdown.
"I'm in this situation due to domestic violence against me from my parents... I guess the building up to it happened over Christmas time, then straight after Christmas it all happened and my first experience of homelessness was in January... I did sleep rough, in my garden, for four or five nights," says one young person.
Financial pressures at Christmas can also be really difficult for young people to manage. Many struggle to stay on top of bills and rent payments, placing their ability to manage a tenancy at risk.
"I remember struggling through Christmas with money. You have to try and pay for it, but at that time of year, you might get ill, you don't get paid, you start struggling. You can't pay your bills. Suddenly, you're in arrears," says another young person who took part in our research.
But it doesn't have to be this way
Last year, over 2,400 young people were helped by Centrepoint over Christmas because we believe everyone should have someone at Christmas. And for the young people staying in our services, our support has helped them them forget the difficult things they'd experienced in the past.
"People were more focused on the actual day than their past and what happened to them before. They were more focused on the people around and the jokes we were having, rather than thinking about what we didn't have before. It was a good day, I felt like most of us got closer together," recalls Luke, a young person who spend Christmas with us last year.