Over 150 homeless youngsters helped as Dorset service marks a decade
Staff, volunteers and young people supported by Action for Children’s Dorset Nightstop joined the Mayor of Dorchester at Poundbury Business Centre on Monday evening (9 September) to mark the project’s 10th anniversary
Dorset Nightstop provides emergency temporary accommodation to homeless young people aged 16 to 25, placing them with volunteer host families, typically for up to three nights, while local agencies find a long-term solution. Since 2009, 20 volunteer hosts have provided 520 nights’ shelter to over 150 young people in Dorset.
After speeches from Action for Children staff and Dorchester Mayor Cllr Richard Biggs, volunteers from the project were presented with thank you gifts and recognition awards.
Volunteer coordinator, Simon Keys, said: “It’s been a real privilege to be part of a project that’s helped some of our most vulnerable young people in Dorset. Our fantastic host families and drivers have gone out of their way countless times over the years, often at very short notice, to make sure homeless young people are safe and cared for.
“Sadly, the weather put paid to our plans for an outdoor event, but with free food courtesy of The Ethic Street Pizza and Grill and plenty of reminiscing with old friends, the evening was still a great chance to say thanks to our volunteers, without whom the project wouldn’t exist.
“We’re always looking for people across Dorset to help a young person in need. By giving them safe and secure home for a few days you could stop them from having to sleeping on the streets. Our volunteers may not necessarily have direct experience, but they all share two things; a genuine concern for children’s welfare and the desire to really make a difference in a young person’s life.”
In attendance were Debbie and Malcolm Albery, from Blandford, who were among the first volunteer hosts for the project in 2009 and have since offered shelter to 40 young people.
Debbie said: “It’s meant a lot to us to have been able to be there for these young people and be that first step up to a better situation for them. As soon as we first started hosting, my husband and I were very aware that any one of them could easily have been our daughter had she found herself with nowhere to stay.
“Many of those we’ve supported simply had nowhere to turn after a family argument or relationship breakdown. Others couldn’t afford their private accommodation anymore for one reason or another and had no support network to fall back on.”
Case study: Jack Kent, 23, from Dorchester, has been in a vicious cycle of homelessness since last year. He first became homeless last year after breaking up with his girlfriend and with no room at his parents’ home was forced to ‘sofa-surf’ at friends’ houses or live in a tent. Eventually, Jack was able to save enough money through his job as a hotel chef to afford a room in a shared house but after just a few months the landlord suddenly gave all the tenants notice to leave. With no savings to afford a new deposit, Jack became homeless again.
“After the second time being made homeless, I was really miserable”, explains Jack. “My mates were OK about me sleeping on their sofas for a while, but I couldn’t keep asking them forever. It was against the hotel’s policy to let me stay at work – so I ended up sleeping rough again for a few days under a bypass bridge.
“I was really nervous being on my own and as it was summer, I was eaten alive by bugs and insects during the night. I can’t tell you how emotional and stressful it is being homeless – you’re always on edge, constantly worrying about when your next shower is going to be, or where your next meal is coming from - I got upset a lot and was really lonely.”
Jack was put in touch with Simon from Dorset Nightstop who placed him with volunteer host families and helped get him back on his feet, providing practical support on finding accommodation. He is now on a waiting list for supported accommodation and is hoping to find a home in the next few months.
Jack said: “It was a huge relief to meet Simon and the Nightstop volunteers. I knew I was safe, they all immediately made me feel at ease and have provided me with so much over the past month or so.”
Action for Children’s Dorset Nightstop offers full training and support to all its volunteers, as well as reimbursement of expenses associated with carrying out the role. Volunteers can be from anywhere in the region but need to be over 21 years old. They also need to be able to drive and have access to a car.
To find out about becoming a volunteer host for Dorset Nightstop or offer your driving services, call Simon Keys on 01305 753 657 / 07779 029 292 or email [email protected]. The next volunteer training sessions take place next month in Dorchester.