More teenagers at risk of becoming homeless due to the pandemic, as charities face soaring demand

The number of teenagers at risk of becoming homeless has rocketed during the pandemic, with one charity revealing a 37% increase in referrals over the past year.

Exclusive figures given to ITV Central show demand is now so high that the Black Country YMCA is now struggling to find enough host families to take in at-risk young people, to help keep them off the streets. 

“I think it’s probably the pressures that the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions have put on families,” Rachael Taylor, from the charity’s Open Door project, said. 

“It’s difficult for all of us at times, it’s been challenging and I think for young people it’s been particularly hard.”

The Open Door project helps find accommodation for at-risk 16 to 18-year-olds in family settings, to help them avoid ending up in hostels - or out on the streets.

And over the past year, demand has rocketed.

Between January and March this year, they received 46 referrals - up from 33 during the same period last year, an increase of 37%.

Calls to their emergency, short-stay Nightstop service has also increased, up 16%.

And there’s a shortage of host families to take them in.

“We have a waiting list and you can imagine when young people are in a situation where they need to move quickly that’s not great,” Rachael added.

“It is worrying.”

Eighteen-year-old Rhiannon Flute is among those to benefit from the scheme.

She moved in with her host family near the start of the first lockdown, in April last year.

“I lived with a family who I’d lived with almost all my life - and the placement broke down,” she said.

“We were all clashing and it wasn’t really working, and I needed to spend time away.”

Clare and Graham Fentham were all too happy to take her in.

“It’s just making a difference I think really,” Clare said.

“It’s very rewarding. You get a lot back from it. To see somebody achieve, and to see it being a success and to see them move on is a nice feeling.”

She said while there have been some challenges along the way, she always enjoys hosting.

“I think it’s harder for them than it was for us. Coming to a house with people they’ve never met before and moving in with us,” she added.

“But it’s all been very easy actually. They fitted in easily, soon got into a routine. 

“I’m not saying there weren’t challenges but they were soon overcome, and of course we had the support of the YMCA behind us.”

Rhiannon the eighth young person they’ve welcomed into their home in Brierley Hill in Dudley.

In fact, they got on so well with their last guest Erin that she decided to change her last name, to reflect her connection with the people she calls her “second family”.

Now 21, she’s hoping to become a host herself in future.

“I want to give something back,” she said. 

“The YMCA has given me something and I want to give them something. I want to do what Clare and Graham have done, and make a person that was me four years ago and make them into a person that’s me today with success.”

As for Rhiannon, she too is now looking to what lies ahead.

Her grades have improved since moving in, and she’s got a place at Glasgow University to study nursing.

“I don’t let my past define me,” she said. 

“I’ll admit that my past hasn’t been great, but having this opportunity and allowing myself to develop with a family, with Clare and Graham, has really helped me. 

“I would never have imagined that I would be going to university and getting a good job. Before, it was out of my… I didn’t aspire to go to university, but I do now.”

She says she just hopes more hosts will come forward, so others can get the same chance.

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