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Alice at Horsham YMCA

We tend not to think of Horsham as a town that has an issue with homelessness. Lacking any major problems in society, we collectively make a big fuss about minor issues, like parking charges rising by 20p or whether we should spend money on fixing a town centre fountain.

But it may well be that, if not for the YMCA Centre on the corner of Albion Way, the sight of a young person sleeping rough on the streets of Horsham could be a more common occurrence.

Andy Ide, Project Manager for Sussex Central YMCA, said: “We are always full. You wouldn’t think Horsham would have a need for such a place but the demand is high. There are 50 young people here and we have 12 on our waiting list who are either staying with a family member or are put up in a Bed and Breakfast.

“The demand normally peaks around July to September when they leave school or college and are not doing anything with their day. The parents get fed up with them doing nothing, staying in all day, playing on the X-Box and say ‘you have to go’.”

For Alice Smith, the first night at the Y Centre was the worst. Alice is 20-years-old, and has been at the Y Centre for six months, after problems at home led to her seeking alternative accommodation. Like the rest of the residents, Alice is from Horsham, as the Y Centre does not bring people from out of the area.

She pays £8 a week rent for her room. There are 32 self-contained units at the Horsham YMCA with their own cooking facilities and bathroom, as well as eight shared units, where they have their own bedrooms but share a kitchen and a bathroom. There are another two emergency beds, so if somebody goes along to the council or
social services and has nowhere to go, they can be put up there for a three week period.

But Alice hopes that she will not be at the centre for the maximum two-year-period. I was a little bit hesitant about living here as the Y Centre doesn’t always have the best reputation. But when you haven’t got anywhere else to go, you come here and realise it’s not so bad. The first night felt really weird. There was nothing in my room; it was just empty. Luckily, my family helped me to settle in.

“I’m working in retail in the town centre. I’ve not been there long but it’s going okay. I would like to move out and get my own place, but if that doesn’t happen I’m happy to stay here. You have to keep your head down and stay focused because at the end of the day you are here for yourself.

“Some think the Y Centre is unfair, but we’re all here for a reason and that’s to improve our own situations. If ever you need a chat, the staff are always there. They look after you and treat you well.”

The YMCA was founded in 1844 by George Williams – a worker in the drapery trade in London. Concerned about the welfare of his fellow workers, he started a prayer and bible study group. Gradually, the YMCA grew around the world, with the American organisation even creating the game of basketball. But over time, the emphasis changed, and in the 1970s the YMCA began to focus on young people, dealing mainly with homelessness and unemployment.

Here in Horsham, the Y Centre was built in 2006, and three years later Central Sussex YMCA came into run it.
Andy Ide said: “I was asked by YMCA England, which owns the property, to help develop the Y Centre in Horsham, as at that time there were some issues with their housing. They used to do lots of conferencing here and had the café area as well, but it wasn’t working that well as Horsham is café central and crossing the road can be lethal.

“Because there is no parking, the conferencing side wasn’t going well, so that went too. We went to the County Council-run Connexions service, which is now called Find it Out centres, and they rent office space from us and deliver their service from here. The information services we have are not just for Y Centre residents but the
community in general, and not many people are aware of that.

“We want to make it more of a hub for young people. That is why we have brought other services in, with counselling services, a sexual health clinic, Addaction (drug and alcohol addiction support) drop-in sessions, all here on the ground floor.”

Dean McBride has been at the YMCA for about eight months and is trying to bring some stability to his life.
Two years ago, he joined the Army, but he was asked to leave after a fight. He is now 18 and is looking for employment. When AAH speaks to Dean, he has just been to a job interview which was arranged through the Y Centre, but he hopes to be able to re-join the army in the future.

Dean said: “I spent a night at my aunt’s house and then came here. I was thinking about my life. Being in this place can open some doors and they can help you with job searching. I prefer being here to living with my
parents, as I like the independence. They’ve helped me with interviews and volunteering work. I’m thinking of doing a challenge with Raleigh International in the future too, but right now I just want to find a job and hopefully get out of this place.

“My aim is to join the military again, as I’ve matured since I arrived here. Another person planning a Raleigh
International challenge is John Chandler. John is 24, and has been living at the Y Centre for nearly a year.

“I was sofa surfing as my family moved away and I wanted to stay in Horsham,” said John. I was on a waiting list for a while but I got the biggest room here so that was a bit of a touch. It’s bad when you are sleeping on sofas as most of my friends were still living with their parents. I’m fundraising at the moment to go out to Borneo with Raleigh International. I’ve done the Three Peaks Challenge, walking the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales in less than a day.

"One of the other guys in here told me about Raleigh International, and I spoke to Tracey (Wilkes, Engagement and Learning Co-ordinator) and she invited a guy to come in and talk about it. I was a bit stuck about what to do with my life, so this gets me away and I hope I will come back fresh with some ideas.

“I’d like to be a gardener or a green keeper. I’m going over to Tilgate Park in Crawley once a week to get some experience as a park ranger. The Y Centre, through my key worker, makes me do stuff. If it was down to me, I’d never go to Borneo, but my key worker nags me to get things done. She’s worse than my mum!”

All of the young people at the Y Centre are allocated a key worker. The key worker will work through a support programme with them and guide them from dependence to independence. Andy said: “The referrals usually go through Horsham District Council. If anyone comes here and says ‘I’m homeless, I have nowhere to live’ we would normally send them to HDC and they would register and go on our waiting list. If we have a vacancy they will send a referral list to us. We will then interview people, and as soon as we get a vacancy we will look to bring them in. They get a full induction, and various assessments are carried out.

“We do have rules. There’s no real curfew, but we put them in place if we need to. Sometimes you have a 16-year-old who has just come out of home and all of a sudden they have all of this freedom and take advantage. Sometimes we give these young people a curfew just as a duty of care. There are no drugs or alcohol on the site, so it’s a dry house, and we don’t tolerate violence. If the residents break the rules, we work on a warning system. If you persistently break the rules you will eventually be asked to leave.

“They mustn’t bring the name of the YMCA into disrepute, so if they do cause trouble they will go on to the warning system. We don’t have too many problems here as we don’t have many neighbours, but if they do something wrong in the community they can potentially lose their accommodation.

“They have the opportunities to get things right. If they get to a certain point we would have a multi- agency meeting as we don’t want to reach the point where a person has to leave. A few years ago, we were probably evicting too many people as our warning system was not as robust as it is now. People were getting evicted for silly things they shouldn’t have been evicted for.”

You’ll be surprised by the young people who live at the Y Centre. Last year, six young people there went to University. Many come from good families who simply clash. Sometimes the young residents build better relationships with their parents once they are here and don’t have to see them every day.

Jordanne Easterbrook has been at the Y Centre for a year. She said: “Now I have moved out of home, my relationship with my family is much better. “I wanted more responsibility and to become an adult and I’m doing that now. I can go out and do the things that I want to do now. 

“Everybody in here has a different reason for being at the Y Centre and you can go one way or the other. In some ways being here can make you or break you. You can succumb to all the stuff that does go on here or you can be
better than that and do what you need to do. I have a work trial coming up in waitressing and hopefully that will go okay, and I’ve also taken part in food hygiene and music production classes here. The Y Centre is good at helping you build your CV up and finding you work placements.”

The learning engagement team at the Y Centre was set up about a year ago. It was formed with the idea of helping young people engage in something positive and help them develop on to independent living. The idea was to offer a service to the whole community.

Tracey Wilkes, Engagement and Learning Co-ordinator at Central Sussex YMCA, said: “We offer a range of courses, which can lead to qualifications, to all young people, and not just those living here. On a Thursday morning, there is a job club drop-in with job searching, CV and interview support and general guidance and we
welcome anyone to attend that.

“In the New Year we are holding an intense week-long course in association with the fire service, for which there are still places available. We also have a music production course, and we are trying to support more people on things like the Raleigh International scheme. Our Positive Placements scheme helps young people find an apprenticeship in a workplace or in a volunteering role.”

Andy Ide added: “We would like to get them into work but it is difficult in Horsham as there is not much employment here. They often look to Crawley or to the coast. We also try to get them into education, and that is why we set up the learning engagement team. We try to prepare them for work or to move them into housing.
Ultimately, we would like to see them doing something with their day and we do give them the opportunity to do that.”

Wayne Todman, who is 19 this month, has been at Horsham YMCA for three months. He said: “Things were not going so well with my mum, so it was time to move on. It was a spare of the moment decision. I walked out and was staying with a few mates before I got a place here.

"This place had been a great help with work and benefits and things like that. I was a bit worried when I came here, as I didn’t know what to expect. It was the first time I had lived on my own. It was a struggle at first but they are supportive and help you get things going.

“I see my mum once a week and I do find it easier to talk to her, as you appreciate your time together more.
“Now I want to get my head down and move on as soon as I can. I work as a cleaner at a school, just doing ten hours a week, and Tracey has helped me get on to an apprenticeship course in football coaching at Crawley Football Club.”

The key workers at the Y Centre each work with about ten young people. When a young person moves in, the key worker explains the house rules and what is expected of them. Then they meet maybe a week later after they are settled and work on a support plan.

Emma Lewis is a student social worker, on a work placement from Kingston University. Emma said: “It’s basically going through their needs, budgeting, work skills and how they might move on into new accommodation. You put plans into place and it gives them something to work towards. Sometimes they can get fiery when they are upset about something, but you just manage the situation and it’s all about communication.

“I think the frustrations they have here are the same as all young people - money, and reaching where they want to be. So it’s about positive action and planning. Some of the youths in here now are ready to go but there is nothing for them to go to, which is why we are trying to promote the empty homes scheme.

“I’ve seen two people move out. When one lad who moved on recently told us he was going, he was beaming. He has gained skills here and now he can go on and be independent, and that’s very satisfying for us.”

Ashley Evans is trying something a little different. He is an artist who hopes to set up his own business. With the help of the Y Centre he is hoping to obtain a grant from the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Scheme. The scheme helps young unemployed people establish their own small business.

Ashley, who is 23 and has been at the Y Centre for a year, said: “I like it here, but I keep myself to myself. I’m a bit of a recluse. I just sit in my room and draw. I’m trying to set up my own business, printing T-shirts and posters and flyers for bands. The staff here help me to cope with money and budgeting.

“I’m 23 so I want to move on but I do feel a bit stuck here, which is frustrating. I want my own place and I want to move on with my life. I’m trying to get an enterprise grant through the Prince’s Trust, and YMCA helped me set that up, and that would be a start.”

Moving on is a real issue, so Central Sussex YMCA is looking at the private renting sector. The Association has bid for Lottery funding to set up an Empty Homes Scheme.

Locally, the Horsham Y Centre is linking up with Horsham District Council and West Sussex County Council to look at empty homes and move young people into them.If you can help with a property, and would like to discuss the scheme email emptyhomes@sussexcentralymca.org.uk

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