Viewpoint: How GPs can support young homeless patients

Sue Kellie explains why youth homeless charity Centrepoint has launched a new helpline and how it can help young homeless people.

Sue Kellie, national head of health, Centrepoint
Sue Kellie, national head of health, Centrepoint

With rough sleeping on the rise, 16% year on year, and for the sixth consecutive year in a row, a reported 150,000 young people aged 16-24 asked for housing help from their local authorities. This however is just a fraction of the real number, as many are hidden sleeping rough, some on floors and sofas, and sadly many on the streets.

The desperate measures young people go to, to avoid sleeping rough in the cold are shocking. Reports reveal 26% have stayed with a stranger, 9% have self harmed to admit themselves to A&E and 12% have committed a crime to be taken into custody.1

Many are often left with these impossible decisions because they feel they have no other option. This is where Centrepoint comes in. Centrepoint is the UK's leading youth homeless charity, who in February 2017 launched a helpline that allows young people to freely call to find somewhere safe to stay which also connects them to local support services. As Centrepoint know young people often don't know where to start when thrown into a difficult situation such as this.

New helpline

Until this year there was no single source of housing advice for young homeless people, which is why the helpline was so badly needed. Centrepoint Helpline is run by a staff of 18 volunteers and is open Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. Each caller receives personally tailored advice based on their housing needs as well as help in accessing mental health support, education and training as well as family counselling. The team are trained in housing and children’s law as well as bring their own experience in navigating the public services system.

However, not enough people are aware of Centrepoint and the vital help it can provide to young homeless people. That’s why Centrepoint are reaching out to those who are most likely to come into contact with vulnerable young people, many of which are healthcare practitioners.

Effects of homelessness

Research from Centrepoint has revealed 22% of the young homeless people who they have helped, have self-harmed and 18% have attempted suicide. A life of homelessness is a life at constant risk from the dangers of the outside word and others, Alone, vulnerable and frightened, doctors and nurses can play a vital role in helping these young homeless people by pointing them in the right direction to gain the right help and support they so desperately need.

The effects of homelessness can be just as damaging emotionally as they can be physically, effects that can linger past years of sleeping rough with feelings of low self-worth and confidence. Therefore, if Centrepoint can make a difference now when they’re young, a whole life of homelessness can be avoided if they get the help early on.

Centrepoint supports more than 9,200 young homeless people aged between 16 and 25 years old. Their hard work and dedication provides more than just a safe bed for the night, they work to turn young people’s lives around by helping them to gain essential life skills; tackling their physical and mental health issues and put them on the right track towards education or employment.

Call Centrepoint Helpline for free on 0808 800 0661 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) or visit the website here.

  • Sue Kellie is Centrepoint's national head of health

1.Centrepoint, 2016; ‘Life on the Streets’: a survey with 430 homeless young people aged 16-25 people housed by Centrepoint and its partner charities in England and Wales

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