Christian went into the care system at around age 14, referring himself to social services because he was at risk whilst living at home.
“My mum was in violent relationships and my brother had recently passed away. I was beginning to hang out with the wrong crowd; I was smoking and drinking and wasn’t respectful,” he admits.
Opting to remove yourself from a difficult situation is a hard choice to make at any age, but particularly challenging for a teenager living with trauma. In care, Christian continued to struggle with his behaviour and moved between three or four different placements, which varied widely.
“It felt like some were just in it for the money,” he says. “But others did so much for me.”
Christian remained in foster care for two more years before moving into supported housing at age 16, which was staffed 24/7. Christian liked supported housing; the staff treated him well and helped him through many of his struggles – but still he couldn’t escape the remnants of his former life, and so this period remained a dark one.
“I was going through extreme anxiety and depression. I was on medication. It took a toll on me – I stopped going to college or interacting with people. I locked myself away,” he remembers.
Worsening health issues
When he reached 18, Christian had to move on from supported housing, but still wasn’t in a position to live independently. He was placed in supported lodgings and continued to receive support from social services. The person Christian stayed with was a friend of the family, which made the transition easier for him, but he was still struggling.
“She looked after me while I tried to deal with some of the problems I was experiencing,” he says. “I didn’t go out at all unless someone accompanied me. I had workers here, there and everywhere supporting me. I was sleeping most of the day; I wasn’t eating properly. It was a bad time. I think the medication was really affecting me and I just felt like a zombie. I stopped taking it eventually.”
In time, Christian began to experience more acute physical problems.
“I was going to the toilet all the time and was dehydrated,” he recalls. “One day, I fell into a diabetic coma and ended up in hospital. The woman I lived with found me in the bedroom, frothing at the mouth. I nearly died,” he recalls.
“That really woke me up. I felt like I had to do something with my life because I had a lot of potential. I felt like I could help others through all the stuff that I had been through.”
Feeling like he needed to have family around him again, Christian went to live with his aunt, sleeping on her sofa for six months. This took its toll on him, and eventually he registered as homeless. He was able to get a flat quite quickly due to his health issues.
However, Christian says that getting his flat wasn’t the end of the story. It was a real struggle – he had nothing. Most of the things in his flat were donated to him and for months he slept on a blow-up bed. For a while, it was difficult to live there on his own. But these days, he’s doing so much better.
“I started volunteering as a youth mentor and I really enjoyed it! It can be challenging at times, particularly when young people don’t engage; it can be demotivating. But at the same time, I know I've helped a few young people turn their lives around and that makes it all worth it.”
It was in this volunteering position that he was introduced to Broxtowe Youth Homelessness, who work tirelessly to mitigate the impact of youth homelessness throughout Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Christian took a few young people he was working with to their HQ to take part in some of the courses they offer – and ended up joining in himself: “There were life skills and employment skills. I got quite deeply into it; I took part in every single course they ran!”
After this, the organisation asked him if he would be willing to go into schools to share his homelessness journey – to talk about his story and the many different ways people can become homeless.
Christian is now continuing with his volunteering position in supported housing while retaking his Maths and English GCSE, and is about to complete Level 3 of his health and social care course. Above all, though, it’s his personal experiences that have most informed how he works in his new role.
“I knew what it was like for young people in care, not having your family around you. I understood where they were coming from, which is why I wanted to volunteer.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping people. It’s a way to reflect on my past; to realise what I was doing wrong so I can see what I need to do to help them,” he continues. “All I can do is give young people advice – I can’t push them one way or another. I feel like if they have the advice from someone who is still young and been through it, then one day they might listen.”
Winning an award
It was Ria, a support worker from Broxtowe Youth Homelessness, who nominated Christian for the Centrepoint Partners’ Inspiration Award. His motivation to work hard and better his life is something she thinks we can all aspire to – and his enthusiasm to succeed often rubs off on those who use their services.
“I wanted to nominate Christian because not only is he an inspiration to the young people we work with, but he inspired me too,” she says. “He is just amazing.”
Despite Christian’s palpable determination and generosity, he’s still surprised and humbled to be recognised in this way by his peers.
“I didn’t think I’d win this – it’s a national award and there are so many people doing amazing things with young people. I feel honoured to have won it. There’s a lot of people out there that deserve the award. I’m still on a journey, I’ll never stop and I’m grateful to have people around me that think so much of me and it’s nice to know that I inspire other people.”
Christian with the 2020 Centrepoint Inspiration Award
From a young person struggling in the care system to inspirational award winner, Christian has overcome huge odds to make it to where he is now. So, what would he tell people who find themselves in similar circumstances as him at 14? His message is simple:
“Stay in education and surround yourself with positive people. Don’t be a follower – you have to find your own identity and your own self.”