BOLTON’S young homeless are being turned away from a charity —because it cannot cope with the rise in demand.
Young people, aged between 16 and 24, have been turned away from the Bolton Young Persons’ Housing Scheme (BYPHS) five times since the start of December.
And the charity has drafted in extra staff as the temperatures drop below freezing to ensure the centre — which usually opens at 6pm — opens 24 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday.
Maura Jackson, director of BYPHS in Blackburn Road said a lack of jobs and education opportunities has led to the biggest spike in homelessness she had seen in the last two years, with the project being forced to close its doors to new cases for the last three weekends.
She said: “Normally we’ll have to turn someone away once or twice in a couple of months but for it to happen so often is unusual.
“I’ve never seen it like that, there are times we’ve had to turn people away but never five times on the bounce like that.”
“It was so cold out I just couldn’t do close during the day and see them out on the streets like that, so we stayed open from Friday night until Monday morning.”
On other occasions young people have been able to sleep on sofas at the centre because the beds were full, or have been forced to find a place to stay on a friend’s settee.
Ms Jackson said: “The problem is poverty and a lack of jobs. We’re seeing a lot of people who are not in education or employment. They’re despondent, they think “I’ll never get a job, why bother?”.
“We had one person come to us recently who’d had to sleep in the doorway of a supermarket. It was not a good experience for him but fortunately he hadn’t been attacked or exploited into doing something he didn’t want to do.”
The number of young people classed as homeless in the borough is continuing to rise.
Between April, 2010 and April, 2011 official figures showed there were 90 people aged 16 to 24 classes as homeless in borough.
In the following 12 months this figures rose to 93.
BYPHS was set up in 1991 to help single young homeless people in Bolton develop basic living skills and become independent.
The charity helps people find accommodation and supports them after they have moved into their own place.
It helps 130 people aged between 16 and 25 every year.
Ms Jackson — who has been working with the homeless for 22 years — said cannabis use among the young was the worst she had ever seen, and also said gambling was becoming an increasing problem.
She added: “Cannabis use is multi-generational, their parents will often use it too and a lot of them are hanging around in betting shops because they’ve got nothing else to do.
“We’ve got one young person who’s from a wealthy part of Bolton, his parents are both professionals but they just couldn’t cope with his cannabis use.”
BYPHS sees a rise in the number of young people looking for a place to sleep every Christmas, New Year and when school finishes for the summer.
Ms Jackson said: “We get about five young people a year where as soon as the Child Benefit stops their parents throw them out — it’s unbelievable really, just for the sake of £20.”
She also raised fears over the impending introduction of Universal Credit, a government welfare reform which will see people receiving their benefits directly rather than them being paid straight to landlords and homeless hostels as they are now.
Ms Jackson claims there is a “serious risk” it could even force the charity to close if something is not done.
She said: “These young people are not always making decisions in a lucid frame of mind, so if they’ve being given money but have got someone hassling them for a drug debt or a bailiff chasing money for a phone bill, they will obviously pay them and not us.
“We’ll then be forced to chase them for money and we’ll have turned into an enforcer.
“You can’t support people while you’re chasing them for money, it changes the whole nature of your relationship.”
Her comments were echoed by Barry Lyon, chief executive of Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau, who claimed the state of the economy and the impending impact of benefit reform would bring a ‘perfect storm’.
He said: “The feeling in the office is there are more people in that age range who are homeless and looking for help. These are the first winds of a perfect storm.”
He added he was “not surprised” that some families had thrown their children out after losing Child Benefit.
He said: “The margins are that tight and people are living hand to mouth.
“It’s not quite Dickensian in that we don’t have people in workhouses or dying in the street, but it says something that the only things which are expanding in Bolton are pay day loan shops and food banks. It’s incredible when you think this is the 21st Century and people can’t even feed themselves.”
Bolton Council operates a number of services to help young people maintain a relationship with their parents, so they can stay at home rather than be forced out on to the streets.
A spokesman said: “Under the Homelessness Act 2002 the council has a duty to provide suitable accommodation when the applicant meets certain criteria. The council and a range of other statutory and voluntary sector services work together to offer a range of advice, support, and interventions, including accommodation.
“Bolton has a number of prevention services in place to assist people to remain in their current home and if necessary to help people move in a more planned way, avoiding emergency situations including need for temporary accommodation where possible.”