4 Young Women On What Christmas Is Like When You Have No Home

Photo: Courtesy of Centre Point
Zinnia, 23, will be celebrating Christmas "properly" for the first time this year.
Last week we saw consumerism reach
pre-Christmas fever pitch on Black Friday. A week later, in stark contrast and with a great deal less fanfare, comes what charities are calling "Bleak Friday". The term, coined by the homelessness charity Centrepoint, draws attention to the fact that the next four weeks are often the toughest of the year for young homeless people.
Christmas has become synonymous with merriment and "quality" time with family but this idyllic picture couldn't be further from many young people's reality.
More than 18,000 16-25-year-olds in the UK are homeless or at risk of homelessness this Christmas, Centrepoint estimates. Many will find themselves isolated and alone, while most of us enjoy time off work and plenty to eat.
Almost half of UK adults recently questioned by the charity said they'd noticed an increase in the number of young people sleeping rough in the past few years, but youth homelessness isn't always visible and doesn't just involve sleeping rough. Many homeless young people sofa-surf (26%) or stay temporarily with extended family or friends (68%) to avoid abusive situations, according to a survey by the charity.
Whether they're risking their safety by sleeping on strangers' sofas, or dealing with anxiety and depression at the prospect of having no one to turn to, the festive period is particularly tough for young homeless people.
Here, four women tell Refinery29 what Christmas is like when you're among the "hidden homeless" with no fixed address.

The worst thing at Christmas is when families are together and you're on your own with no one

Vicky, 22
Zinnia (pictured above), 23, will be celebrating Christmas for the first time this year while in council housing, after years of insecure living arrangements. She became homeless when her foster placement broke down at 18 and stayed with her ex for a while out of desperation but when he turned violent, she left and became homeless.
"I sofa-surfed for a while – at my ex’s mum’s house, and then with friends. It was a bad environment for me – the people I was staying with were drinking a lot and I started doing the same. I was depressed and anxious. It was a horrible time. I had nowhere safe to call my own. The lowest point was when my daughter was taken away from me, my foster carers had kicked me out and I was dealing with postnatal depression and relying on my ex, who I didn’t like, for somewhere to stay.
"Because of my childhood, I didn’t even know what Christmas was until I was nine, when I went into foster care. My foster carers tried to introduce me to the idea, but I didn’t like it because I didn’t understand it and it just made me feel awkward.
"It can be hard for people who’ve been through tough times because it’s all about family and it can remind you that you’ve never had something that most people experience – a loving and supportive family. This will be the first year that I properly celebrate it. I’m going to spend it with my boyfriend and his family. They’ve been really supportive and understanding, so I’m looking forward to it."
Vicky*, 22, will be spending Christmas at a Centrepoint hostel. She became homeless at 17 due to a relationship breakdown between her and her dad.
"My dad and his partner would shout at me and put me down constantly, make me do all the chores and make me hand over my wages from my part-time job. I felt trapped. One night my dad lashed out and hit me. The next day I packed some things because I knew I wasn’t going back. I felt anxious and depressed, it was all so much to take in. I sofa-surfed with family and friends for a while – it was difficult. I was relying on family members I wasn’t close to, friends' landlords said I wasn’t allowed to stay in their houses. I left my stuff at my friend’s and spent the night on night buses, in McDonald’s, or on the streets – anywhere. I had no other options. There are lots of weird people who approach you on the streets. I still get bad anxiety about it and I’m seeing a counsellor.
"The worst thing at Christmas is when families are together and you're on your own with no one. That really made me feel low and depressed. Friends invited me round but I felt like it was because they felt sorry for me, and that broke me.
"Even after I got a place to stay it was really difficult at first. I was placed in an all-age hostel where people would drink, take drugs and fight. I was still at college. My mental health suffered, I was living on my own in a horrible place and feeling isolated with no one to talk to. It was surreal hearing people at college say they were jealous that I lived on my own. They had no idea what was going on. People need to be aware that homelessness doesn’t always look how you think. Thousands of people are like I was – hidden from sight but still suffering a great deal."

I went to the kebab shop, and had a kebab for Christmas by myself

Georgina, 25
Georgina*, 25, became homeless two years ago when her mum became unwell and started abusing her.
"It was just me and my mum growing up. She was always docile but when she came off her medication she became verbally abusive and aggressive. She'd throw my things out of the house, throw all the food out so there was nothing to eat, and would burst into my room at night screaming. I tried not to take it personally because she was unwell but I was scared and knew I couldn’t stay there anymore. The police sent me to a women’s shelter – I didn’t have anything with me, not even my phone. I could only stay there for two nights, then I was told to tell the council I was homeless. I was sent to an all-age homeless hostel, which was scary, and eventually contacted Centrepoint, which helped me get a flat.
"I remember my first Christmas in my flat on my own. I worked Christmas Eve and Boxing Day in a shopping centre, and there was a lot of Christmassy stuff going on, so I tried to make the most of that and have my Christmas at work. But the day itself was depressing. I spent it alone. My flat had no furniture, other than a mattress. I didn’t have a fridge or a microwave so I couldn’t store or cook any food in my flat. So I went to the kebab shop, and had a kebab for Christmas by myself.
"People shouldn’t judge people who've been homeless. When I talk about my experience I'm always amazed by the number of people who say the same thing happened to them or someone they know. Homelessness is associated with older people who sleep rough, but it happens to people of all ages."
Louise*, 20, will be spending her second Christmas at Kings Ripton Court, a hostel run by the Salvation Army in Cambridgeshire. She became homeless just over a year ago after the breakdown of her relationship with her family.
"Last year was the first time I'd ever been away from family at Christmas and it was better because there were no arguments. I really enjoyed it. I liked the fact that all the staff came in on Christmas Day to work for a while, and I got to spend time with friends and people who care about me. Last year's was the best Christmas I have had in my life. Members of the public should treat homeless people in the same way they'd like to be treated, especially at this time of year."
*Names have been changed.
For more information about youth homelessness, and to donate money this winter, visit Centrepoint's website.

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