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"Helping others enabled me to heal"

Emilyn was a Centrepoint resident for just over a year back in 2007. She became a resident after her mental health deteriorated and she had to drop out of college. Whilst living with Centrepoint, she received support from her keyworker and the learning team and this enabled her to get back into college and eventually go to university. Emilyn now works for The Challenge, the UK's leading charity for social integration. 

50th Anniversary: Emilyn's Story

Emilyn became homeless in 2006 when her dad kicked her out.

“He was a very old school Jamaican – 92 years old. He was raised completely differently. I moved around between different B&Bs in the area until eventually I was referred to Centrepoint where they were able to support me in a number of different areas: They got me back into college, supported me with my mental health and helped me with my budgeting,” she recalls.

“I can’t even express in words how much Centrepoint helped me. They gave me a place to call home, but they also gave me so much more than that. They provided me with love. I met other young people – some of whom are still my closest friends. They also gave me the chance to get to know myself a bit more. Growing up in school, I was having all sorts of issues that I was never able to address. However, being at Centrepoint, I realised it was OK to feel this way. It pushed me to my limits in a positive way,” she says.

“Centrepoint gave me so many opportunities. Things like meeting Prince William; the chance to go to Wales; the chance to go sailing and so many other amazing memories that I still have to this day. The best one was being able to advocate for homeless people. I feel that if my experience was able to change the life of at least one other young person then the experiences I have gone through will have been worthwhile. It was part of my healing process – helping other young people.”

The Duke of Cambridge

Emilyn met the Duke of Cambridge on four separate occasions. It’s one of those stories that she says she tells everyone regardless of whether they want to know!

“The first time was Christmas Eve and it was coming up to the 40th anniversary. We were in another hostel in Central London. Prince William was there in a hairnet serving me breakfast. I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” she recalls.

“The next opportunity was at a special event officially introducing him as the Patron. It was a chance for me and other Centrepoint young people to meet with him and talk about the different issues and we really felt he listened.”

“My favourite moment though – the highlight of my life -  was having dinner with him at St James's Palace. There were about 100 people and I was there to advocate for Centrepoint young people; to raise awareness and talk about how Centrepoint can make a difference, but nobody told me that I’d be having dinner seated right next to him. I felt like the Princess in the Princes Diaries with all the cutlery. Luckily, I’d seen the film so I knew what to do,” she recalls.

“The last time I met him was purely by chance. It was when he’d recently married Kate and they went to visit one of the South London hostels. He saw me and he remembered me. He asked how I was doing in my job and then introduced me to his wife. For me that does really show how much Prince William does care about Centrepoint – he does take the time out to meet young people and he remembers their names and their stories.”

Support from Centrepoint

Before Emilyn came to Centrepoint, she was at a point in her life where she couldn’t see a future.

“I was contemplating suicide and my daily routine was self-harm. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me, it was just a brick wall. Centrepoint really did change my life. They helped me become confident; they helped me with my public speaking. They made me realise that I can do what I want to do,” she says.

“After I was a resident at Centrepoint, I went on to university to study psychology. Centrepoint  was the first organisation to offer me a job and that is something I’m so grateful for. The fact that they offered me a paid job meant I was able to support myself through university. They were great in giving me flexible hours so I could work around my studies. I was able to help set up the Centrepoint Parliament and try to make a positive change for the young people within the services. I’m really passionate about helping young people and staying within the charity sector.”

“Centrepoint also supported me in my personal life. They gave me the courage to push myself and believe that I can do anything I want to achieve. One of the things I’m most proud of is that I recently completed a marathon which is something I never ever thought I’d do. I knew if I could get through being homeless, if I could get through university, I could get through 26 miles. That was the mindset that Centrepoint nurtured in me.”

Advice to others

"My advice to any young person going through homelessness is to always talk to someone about it. Don’t ever feel like you’re alone. Centrepoint have the helpline now and can offer advice. Just go and speak to someone because the help is there."

"What I’d say to any young person fortunate enough to be in a Centrepoint hostel is take any opportunity that’s offered to you. I was able to do some of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Don’t be afraid to say yes. The key thing I got from these opportunities was the opportunity to represent other young people. I know how hard it is for young people to be vocal about what’s going on; to talk about their issues. I want other young people to know that they’re not alone."

Reconciling with her Dad

One of the things Centrepoint helped Emilyn with was understanding why she became homeless. This enabled her to reconcile with her Dad before he died.

“For me, the day I got my flat was a really proud day for my dad. Although we hadn’t really been talking, we did talk that day. He invited himself over, he helped me paint my room. Before he left that day, he told me how proud he was at how independent I’d become,” she recalls.

“My dad, who was wheelchair bound, came to my university graduation. When I got to go up on stage to get my certificate, it was one of the only moments that he stood up by himself because he was so proud. I hope from that experience people will realise that you can make amends. It’s about forgiving and forgetting, but also about learning and growing. We all make mistakes in life, but what I’ve learnt is that it’s about what you do afterwards that counts.”

 A message for the 50th

Emilyn vividly remembers marking the 40th anniversary and can’t believe that Centrepoint is now 50.

“People can look at the negative side and think we’re still here 50 years on, we’re clearly not doing our job. However, what I see is that Centrepoint has been evolving and been doing an amazing job supporting thousands of young people. Centrepoint should never be afraid of that,” she says.

“Centrepoint put young people at the heart of everything they do. My message for the 50th is: Well done Centrepoint. You’ve done absolutely fantastic work. I’m proud to have been part of the process both as a young person and a staff member.”

Emilyn now works with vulnerable young people for the charity, The Challenge.

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Two homeless young people outside the Centrepoint Soho night shelter in the 1970s.

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