As the weather turns colder and we crank up the central heating, it’s easy to take warmth and comfort for granted. Not everyone is that fortunate.
Henok arrived at Hillbrook House in August 2018, aged sixteen. War and conflict had driven him from his family and home country of Eritrea in search of a better and more stable life. “I travelled through Ethiopia, the Sudan, Libya, Italy and France,” says Henok, now 18. “It was a difficult journey and I had very little money. I spent six months in a refugee camp in Calais, sleeping under a bridge.”
Arriving in the UK with nothing but the clothes he wore, a phone with no
charge and unable to speak English, Henok sought help from the authorities. Surrey Social Services contacted YMCA Hillbrook House, our safe, secure, and affordable accommodation in Redhill for young homeless people, and we were able to offer Henok a place to stay.
YMCA’s housing support staff enrolled Henok in healthcare and education services, as well as guiding him through a range of life skills such as opening a bank account, budgeting, and benefit claims. He began taking classes to learn English to improve his communication skills and is currently a student at East Surrey College studying ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
Henok has now been granted 5 years’ asylum, thanks to the dedicated support of his YMCA key worker. His next step will be to take a room in YMCA East Surrey’s Move On property in Merstham, where, with continued support from Housing staff but less overall supervision, he will take another step towards independent living. “I was so relieved to be here,” says Henok. “It is hard to make a home in a new country when I can’t chat and I don’t have the language, but I am happy now. I had nothing and the YMCA gave me everything I need.”
YMCA East Surrey helps many young people like Henok, providing opportunities for people facing homelessness within the local community to access housing and support that meets their individual needs. “In the last twelve months, YMCA East Surrey has provided a home to 91 young people with nowhere to stay,” says the charity’s Chief Executive, Ian Burks. “We received 164 housing applications between May and June this year, which was an increase of 412% from 2019.
“We address many mental health issues, helping them to explore their feelings and different ways of coping, discuss positive and negative friendships, and provide one-to-one and group sessions that make a real difference to a young person who doesn’t have support from other adults in their life.”