A guest blog by Rachel Helms, Gardens Coordinator for the Cyrenians Community Garden at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
Last week my youngest child participated in the sponsored ‘Wee Sleep Out’ with the Cubs and Beavers. The accompanying picture shows the camp bed alongside precious and ‘essential’ kit – an exciting occasion for them all, involving a daily countdown to the event, careful checking of the kit list, and filling in of sponsorship forms.
For me this fundraiser marked a mini milestone in my child’s independence and I found it poignant that young children were raising money to end homelessness, when it’s a situation that blights many young lives. One quarter of all homeless applications to local authorities in Scotland last year were for young people between 16 and 24. In previous roles I have worked with families and young homeless people, and in life too I have observed families coming close to breakdown. I reflected on the challenges to come for my children, for me as a parent, and some of the very common experiences my family will face as the children grow up.
For many young people adolescence can rage like a storm as their bodies and brains undergo physical and chemical transformations. There will be new, strong and confusing emotions; real pressures to belong to a social groups (either in the real, or virtual world); demands at home and school for results and increased for self-reliance. All of these changes have great potential to be the foundations for adult interests and talents, for fresh perspectives, confidence and focus. And in the new-found freedoms there will be temptations to experiment with things the family disapprove of; some of which for good reason, but experience is a teacher each person needs to discover for themselves. The shadow side of all this change is often acutely felt in the home where teenage turbulence can wreak havoc in family relationships. Thankfully most families and young people weather this well; eventually emerging with confident and independent young people with whom they have interesting, rewarding and reciprocal relationships. I added ‘eventually’ as this can take many years (so sorry Mum and Dad!). It’s not unusual for full independence to be a process that goes in stages: sometimes two steps forwards, and one step backwards; sometimes in ungraceful leaps with unsteady landings and hasty retreats to lick raw wounds.
The support of stable adults to offer elastic support over many years is sadly not available to every young person. Some young people grow up in the care system (half of whom will experience homelessness); many are raised in families where parents face the harsh realities of financial pressure, inadequate housing, and are physically and emotionally stretched beyond their limits without a community to support them. In such situations normal adolescent traits place a young person in a very precarious position. These are typically the situations from which young people seek independence or have it forced upon them too soon. In Scotland last year over a thousand 16 and 17 year olds alone asked their local authority for homeless services, many more will have muddled through in unstable situations such as ‘sofa-surfing’ which are not conducive to healthy development and progress.
There are excellent services available to assist young people and families. Some are direct access for young people, and some are accessed through assessment via social care or housing services provided by the local authority. A number are offered by Cyrenians, in particular Cyrenians Communities, as well as Mediation and Support. For any family, regardless of circumstance or privilege I would recommend spending a tea or coffee break browsing the excellent resources available on the SSCR’s website to see practical tools for dealing with conflict and the real science on the chemistry of the brain under different conditions. There are versions available for parents, for young people and for professionals.
As we approach the Christmas season I am happy to report that the Wee Sleepout went very well! £30 was raised for projects supporting homeless people, while songs were sung, there was a whole lot of giggling, stories about Beaver and Cub Leaders snoring, and not a lot of sleep was had!
If you are doing a fundraising event this winter, perhaps taking part in the Social Bite’s ‘Sleep in the Park’ event this winter, I hope you have fun too – you deserve to, as the funds raised by the public keep vital services running in difficult times and support innovation. On behalf of all the organisations offering help to homeless people of all ages – Thank you!
If at this time of year you feel grateful for all you have, perhaps offer a listening ear to someone you know raising a family or donate to Cyrenians or another charity. Keeping families together is a key part of the effort to prevent homeless.
Rachel Helms, Monday 10th December