On the Ground: Centrepoint

Maria Clegg

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Since July 2002, local authorities have been legally obliged to house young homeless people, but recent Centrepoint research shows that many local authorities lack appropriate bed spaces for this group. As a result, young people are housed in bed and breakfast accommodation, often with older, more chaotic clients, and become isolated from vital support services.

Centrepoint Buffy House was opened to provide a supportive environment for this group. The centre has 12 bed spaces for young people aged 16 to 17 who have been identified as 'priority need' in the borough, and have been referred to Centrepoint by Hammersmith and Fulham City Council.

Residents may be asylum-seekers who have arrived in the UK as unaccompanied minors, or they may find themselves homeless after a family breakdown. It was launched officially last week, but opened its doors to its first four residents on 5 April.

Catherine van Wissen, deputy service manager at Centrepoint, describes the reality of life in a B&B. "In bed and breakfast accommodation, there are people of all ages,often with many different problems. One girl was given a room with two older men, both alcoholics, on either side. She had her own bedroom, but shared a bathroom and toilet with the other residents, and at night, she did not want to leave her room."

At Buffy House, residents have their own room, and are in a supportive environment surrounded by their peers. There is a communal area and shared cooking facilities with lockable cupboards. "Having a clean kitchen makes a big difference - often people in B&Bs have to rely on takeaways," says van Wissen.

Residents of Buffy House pay rent, which is in most cases covered by housing benefit. Young people's support in B&Bs often amounts to just one or two hours a week with an adviser, which Centrepoint claims is not sufficient.

In Buffy House, there are six staff providing 24-hour care and support.

Residents are encouraged to think about their future, following a personal development plan drawn up with their key worker.

While at Buffy House, residents move up the housing list for a place of their own - a process that usually takes eight months to one year.

Van Wissen says that the staff ratio allows more one-to-one support, which aids the difficult process of rebuilding trust. "Living in a B&B can be a very lonely experience; you tend to go into your room, close the door and hope no-one bothers you."

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