Over 75,000 young people in the UK experience homelessness each year. Here one of those young people shares their story, and explains how the Albert Kennedy Trust helped them get off the streets.

Young people often get frustrated or impatient about things, from the stress of exams, to what they should wear at a party. However, every year in the UK around 75,000 young people aged 16-24 have more serious concerns to think about; food, shelter and health. Because of circumstances over which they have little say or control, such as family rejection, leaving long-term care, or living illegally in the UK, they have become homeless.

The law requires every council in the UK to house 16 and 17 year olds who are homeless or are in an unsafe situation. However, once you turn eighteen, or if you do not qualify for council emergency housing, you could easily fall outside of the law and find that no one has any obligation to provide you with accommodation. This could result in long-term homelessness.

At the age of 16, due to circumstances that weren’t my fault, I found myself homeless. Although I was not kicked out of my family home, it had become impossible to continue living there whilst trying to achieve my aspirations and be myself. I had nowhere to go, and as I was deemed to have made myself homeless I did not qualify for emergency housing. For over three months throughout the winter I spent my time focussing on finding the basic necessities that most people take for granted, like shelter, food and warmth.

The three months I was homeless were terrifying, disorientating, educational and life changing

For shelter I spent my time living in squats in North East London. Squats are unoccupied buildings that groups of people take over and turn into places to live without paying rent. Often squats have no electricity, water or heating.

I also had to find a way of getting food without any income. Skipping, also known as skip diving, is the most common way for homeless people or squatters to feed themselves. Supermarkets are known for throwing out food before its sell by date so going through their bins is a good way to survive in that situation. Most items thrown away are often still in their packaging and edible.

This may sound like an easy, cheap, carefree way to live but after only a few hours of being in the squat I came to realise some of the problems and difficulties. There was a diverse mix of people, from illegal immigrants to hard-core anarchists, long-term squatters to members of the criminal underworld.

Living with people who live such unconventional lifestyles can easily get you involved in situations that can lead to serious trouble. Criminal damage, stealing and drug abuse were an all too common scene in the squats I stayed in.

Living in a squat, with no electricity or heating, many people became dependent on drugs or alcohol for everyday needs. Alcohol is an escape from this way of living and you end up using drugs to keep you awake, to help you fall asleep or to give you a high when you feel low or depressed. These alone can cause psychological, physical and emotional problems. At numerous times I saw people take substance use too far to the point of addiction and unfortunately death.

Eventually I was lucky. I was fortunate to find a charity called the Albert Kennedy Trust, who provide supported lodging for young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people who have found themselves homeless for a variety of different reasons. The Albert Kennedy Trust place young people with a foster carer whose role is to support them both practically and emotionally, helping them to eventually live independently.

I myself have been placed with foster carers and received help with my emotional and physical health issues from supportive members of the Trust’s staff. I am also receiving drugs and alcohol counselling. It’s a slow process to recovery but I am now hoping to get back into education to get the qualifications I need to go into university and achieve my aspirations in life.

Looking back, the three months I spent homeless were terrifying and disorientating, educational and life changing. The experience that I gained has been an opportunity to develop myself in many different ways. Facing constant difficulties and challenges has forced me to take full responsibility for my life and make crucial choices that will impact massively on both my present and future. I’ve learnt from the mistakes I have made, and had to deal with situations I would not wish anyone in the world to have to go through. But this has given me strength to turn my life around.

The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous