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Homeless, but not hopeless.

Byline: By Barbara Argument Evening Gazette

The official figure of zero hides the reality of Middlesbrough's estimated 60 homeless young people.

They sleep rough in the shadows of town ( or if they're lucky, beg a night on the floor at a mate's place. Now a Barnardo's project is giving help and hope to vulnerable youngsters in need of a new life.

John's story

John is one of Middlesbrough's hidden homeless young people.

He reckons that 60 under-25s are sleeping rough every night on Teesside ( though officially there are none.

John knows the dark and secret places to kip, away from those who would move him on.

Under the railway bridge at the Tees Barrage. Behind Sainsbury's. Beside nightspot Aruba.

There's an older man with a dog who rules the roost, keeping the youngsters to his code of conduct.

Drink and drugs may be their rock and roll, but it's a desperate life, admits John.

He hopes it's a life he has left behind: "I'm in a B&B now and things are turning round."

The change came when John found another way at Middlesbrough Independent Network's one-stop, drop-in centre in Park Road North. He turned up for the soup, desperate for a bit of warmth.

But he got more ( a life that's back on track.

There were essentials like a washing machine and blokes like him who enjoyed a game of pool. Just last week, he led a team of the Drop-Ins as they turned MIN's wasteland garden into a place of beauty with decking, arty rocks and a mural.

He loved it ( even more when everyone said he could make a career out of landscaping.

Leading the MIN team is Jason Griffiths. He was once a social worker helping sort childhood woes. Now he smoothes their way to independence as teenagers. Jason sees it all at the Barnardo's project, supporting the 16-25 age group living on their own with access to the Tees Valley region's multi-agency help.

Middlesbrough has about 20,000 in that age group and MIN is there for any who need a listening ear, a friendly chat, expert advice ( or just some fun being with friends.

Jason admits that includes the shocking number of young people sleeping on friends' floors or in bed and breakfasts.

Or like John, out in all weathers. Some have been in care and moving on, but others are simply struggling to live without their families.

The centre is where they can get grassroots help to break the cycle and get a job, some training, a home, a life.

Specialist help for those with alcohol or drugs related problems is there too.

"This is a service where young people can get all the help they need in one place," said Jason.

"It is for any young person who might be slipping through the net without any support.

"There are a lot of young people who are homeless ( the hidden homeless sleeping on friend's floors or rough. Officially the figures might show one or two. Those who are out there reckon maybe 60.

"The problem is hidden so people don't think it exists. They are in tents or sheds, where they can find shelter."

The centre's help includes everything from a washing machine and drier ( important if you're kipping on a friend's floor ( to playing pool, checking the Internet, having a hot drink, finding an ear to listen to problems and doing what's needed to find a job, home and new life.

Natasha's story

Natasha is just 17, six months pregnant and can't wait to cuddle her baby.

But she's tight-lipped about the dad.

He came with her life of hell as a homeless youngster on the streets of Middlesbrough.

She spills the bare bones of meeting him in a park as she wasted endless empty hours, day after day.

Then came the violence and no, she doesn't see him any more. Doesn't want to talk about it.

She self-harmed too. "It released my anger," she explains. "It made me feel really good, like everything was lifted from my shoulders."

Natasha is a success story in the world of Teesside's young homeless.

She is back home living with her family and keen to admit: "I thought I was a hard girl."

She rowed with her mam and skived from school. "Then I met this lad and wanted to do my own thing," she said.

"I wanted to be independent, to drink and I didn't want anyone telling me to come home early.

"I had mates who said I could always stop with them ( only when I walked out, they weren't friends any more.

"Their mams said I couldn't stay and I was scared to go back to my mam."

So she hit the streets, ending up in "a horrible" B&B. "I was scared, there were people on smack.

"I spent all day walking the streets and lived on drink and Pot Noodles."

Then she turned up at Barnardo's MIN centre in Park Road North.

"They were really nice to me and I could watch the telly, use the washing machine, play pool or just talk to people who were homeless like me," said Natasha.

Then faced with increasing violence, she was taken into a women's refuge.

Help from the many agencies under MIN's umbrella, and project worker Kirsten Demangeot, paved the way for a return home with an intensive support programme.

"It's different at home now," said Natasha. "My mam and dad are more laid back and looking forward to the baby. I'm going to have my own place beside my family, but now I worry that I'll be lonely without them."

So what's made the difference?

"Me being better," said Natasha.

* Names have been changed.

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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 19, 2006
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