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Tackling the hidden homelessness crisis

Think about homelessness and what do you see? A man huddled in a shop doorway begging for spare change?  A sleeping bag on a street corner?

There’s no denying these scenes are becoming more and more commonplace in cities and towns across the country, but a recent BakerBaird project opened our eyes up to a much wider, and more hidden, homelessness problem.

Broxtowe Youth Homelessness (BYH) supports young people aged 16-25 who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, and their services have never been more in need.

Established 35 year ago, and beavering away quietly from a small base in Stapleford, the charity has helped thousands of young people turn their lives around. In the last two years alone, demand for their services has more than doubled – with 88 people coming to them for help in 2017/18 compared to 182 in 2018/19.

Not all of them will have been sleeping on the streets, but for a wide variety of reasons – from relationship breakdowns to family fall-outs – they will have nowhere to call home. Many exist by begging favours from friends, sleeping on their sofas until the goodwill runs out. Others will be living out of a bag, moving from hostel to hostel as they try to stay warm and safe.

What they all have in common is a lack of stability in their lives – which is where BYH comes in. Offering drop-in sessions, a warm, dry place to wash your clothes, and a shoulder to cry on, the team are a welcoming island in a sea of uncertainty. Their support services include food and toiletry parcels, as well as training to help young people enter the world of work or navigate the logistics of gaining their first tenancy.

Because of the hidden nature of this kind of homelessness BYH’s work largely goes unseen, which is why they got in touch with us. The demand for services was growing at such a rate that their fundraising couldn’t keep pace and they needed a boost to help them become more visible.

We helped promote their week-long Food Parcel Challenge which urged people to swap their usual weekly shop for the contents of an emergency food parcel. They could choose to get sponsored or donate the difference between the cost of the food parcel ingredients (approx. £10) and their usual weekly shop.

We worked with regional and national media to publicise it, as well as calling in favours from local organisations and businesses – including Notts Country Cricket Club and the Theatre Royal – who all threw their weight behind the campaign.

A social media campaign, which included support from a local food blogger and his 9,500+ followers, drove people to the charity’s website to pledge their support, while participants of the challenge were able to share their experience and stories throughout the week.

The challenge aimed to not only raise awareness and funds for the charity, but also challenge common misconceptions around food parcels as being “the easy option” for those who are struggling.

 

Without exception, participants were struck by just how bland the food was. Living on a diet of tinned and pre-packed goods was fine for a few days, but by the end of the week all of them said they felt sluggish, unhealthy, and had a new perspective on how hard life can be when you can’t afford to put food on your plate.

A timely thought when you consider that a study published earlier this month by Heriot-Watt University found that 1 in 50 UK households used a food bank in 2018/19.

So, congratulations to all who took part and to all those working so hard at BYH to transform people’s lives. It was a privilege to work with you and highlight such an important issue. We love it when our job plays a part in challenging perceptions, encouraging acceptance and making us all see things in a different light – and the Food Parcel Challenge certainly did exactly that.

Author: Sarah Matthews

 

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