ARE YOU HOMELESS, SOFA SURFING OR AT RISK?

Dale Taylor-Gentles at Centrepoint Polo 2016

For The Young & Homeless, 'Found Families' Are What Make Christmas Worth Celebrating

Dale Taylor-Gentles became a carer for his grandmother aged 12 and homeless at just 16. He was eventually placed in a Centrepoint residence, where he worked hard with his mentor to gain a place at university. 

Here, he tells us why Christmas can often feel like the loneliest time of year for young people without a stable family structure, and how his 'Found Family' meant he could look forward to the holidays once again.

The Christmas season is officially in full swing! Mere moments after the last child was tucked into bed after a night of trick-or-treating, did the bells start jingling and the undying holiday anthems begin to play. This joyous occasion signals us all to reconnect with family, buy gifts, stuff our faces with food and wrap up in the warmth of our bed covers during the harsh winter months. But what happens to those of us not so fortunate to have those familial ties and the blessing of a safe place to call home at night?

It is estimated that this year alone, 22,000 young people will be facing homelessness this Christmas - many of whom will also be estranged from their families.

When you become estranged from your family it can make celebrating the festive season, which is so heavily focused on family, a difficult period. Thoughts arise about how the day will be spent, and the isolation brought about by homelessness and family estrangement can lead to the development or exacerbation of mental health issues. With this in mind, it is important that support networks and relationships are formed with loved ones to help them through these difficult times.

It was during the Halloween-Christmas switch, almost a year after I had been initially made homeless, that I was first introduced to the concept of a ‘Found Family’ or, as some call it, a ‘Chosen Family’. These are the people you choose to let into your life to provide love, support and stability where it’s missing. These people usually are the ones that understand you the most and have supported you through the difficult times. The beauty of it all being that the members of your Found Family can be absolutely anyone you want. For me they include my sisters, friends I grew up with, those who have had similar family challenges, and Black and queer people whom I kiki with.

Cultivating a loving and supportive community for yourself can be truly life-changing; it becomes a safe space in which you can grow and truly be yourself. One of the best things about having a Found Family is that you can start your own traditions: every year my siblings and I gather together for our own little sibling Christmas, then the actual day I spend with my best friend and her family. But it wasn’t easy to get to this point – there was a time when I hated Christmas for all the things that it signified. Before I had gotten to the point where I could celebrate Christmas with the people I loved, the constant advertisements for ‘the season to be jolly’ felt like a never-ending gut punch. I would hear the twinkling notes of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ playing and was ready to spit the words “bah, humbug” out like venom.

It wasn’t until my friend invited me to spend the holidays with her that I realised Christmas isn’t just a celebration reserved only for the people you are biologically tied to.

That simple invitation changed my outlook on what the word 'family' really means, and allowed me to then start my own Found Family and create new traditions. I encourage you to do the same, be it starting your own personal traditions or just inviting a friend over for Christmas to let them know that they are loved and valued, too. Though some of you may be unable to do so, a simple call checking in on your friends who are spending the day alone or away from family goes a long way. This is not to say that we can solve the issue of youth homelessness by just inviting a friend over for Christmas dinner, but it can make this time of year just that bit easier for those going through a rough time. If you want good karma points for the new year, then this is a good way to start!

If you or someone you know is homeless or at risk, contact the Centrepoint Helpline on 0808 800 0661 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm) for free advice and support for 16- to 25-year-olds.