Kicked out of home at 17, Simon* had to deal with the harsh reality of being homeless and spent a night on the streets before being signposted to YMCA Cheltenham. He was still at school, studying for his A-levels. “My situation was desperate and I moved into YMCA straight away and was given a housing support worker. The next morning I had to go to school in the same clothes I’d slept in on the streets. I had nothing. No money, no food, no school books, and none of my belongings. I had no idea how to look after myself.”
His support worker said: “When he first came to us, he was lacking in confidence and self-esteem and would not maintain eye contact. He was vulnerable and was in a really bad state. In the early days, we worked closely with Simon and his school, picking up his homework, teaching him to wash and iron his uniform. He started from scratch, learning how to care for himself whilst at the same time keeping on top of his studies. It is hard for young people in this situation. There is no one there to do all those little tasks that young people generally take for granted – laundry, preparing a meal (having first done the shopping), budgeting, tidying up”.
Simon admitted that he had little confidence and no dreams for the future when he first arrived at the homelessness charity, but he knuckled down, got on top of his studies and grasped every opportunity that came his way. He left school with two ‘A’s and a ‘B’ at A-level and went on to study history at University where he graduated with a first-class honours degree. He was the first resident at YMCA Cheltenham to go to university.
What next? “I want to get involved in teaching. I believe that education can transform the lives of young people in the same way that it transformed mine. Being at the YMCA I had a lot of space to reinvent myself and a lot of time which I used to improve and better myself. It was hard, but with the support of the YMCA, it turned out well.”
His support worker said: “We are very proud of him, unbelievably so. It is a great testament to his character and he has really taken hold of his future. That is what the YMCA is about, giving people the opportunity and support to fulfil their potential.”
* Name changed to protect their identity