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“I bonded with a homeless young man through a strawberry milkshake – it takes time to build trust”


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“I bonded with a homeless young man through a strawberry milkshake – it takes time to build trust”

Vanessa Newey has helped develop an outreach service in Birmingham through St Basils to support young people sleeping rough. She tells us young people on the streets have been through a lot of trauma and it takes time to build trust.

It was bonding through a strawberry milkshake which led our very own Vanessa Newey to make a major breakthrough with a homeless young man who was so disillusioned and mistrustful, he would walk off as soon as someone tried to approach him.

The young man of around 18 was sleeping rough on the streets of Birmingham and he was so fearful and hesitant to talk to anyone, trying to break through and convince him to accept help took time and patience.

“No one just ends up on the streets one day,” explains Vanessa Newey, “There’s always a story and an episode of events that caused them to be in these unfortunate circumstances.

“It’s about us understanding that, trying to break that down and building that trust with them and helping them realise that we are there for them and will be there for as long as it takes.

“A young person may choose at that point that they don’t want support – and that’s ok. We just want to make them aware that we are here for them whenever they’re ready.”

Vanessa is the team leader for the Rough Sleeping Initiative here at St Basils. She helped develop the young people’s outreach service in 2018 to support those sleeping rough in the city.

The aim is to reach out to young people experiencing or facing homelessness who don’t come to them, to let them know they aren’t alone and that there is support for them.

Young people are often too scared to accept help or talk to people, as Vanessa found with this particular young man.

After a while, Vanessa noticed the young man had a fondness for strawberry milkshakes. So she bought him a strawberry milkshake, put it down in front of him and then went away. She carried on doing this daily for six weeks and began by accompanying the milkshake with a “hello” and gradually built up to asking him how he was.

“It was about having no expectation or ask from us and just giving him that consistency and not giving up at the first hurdle,” says Vanessa.

“Then one day, this young man just ran after me after I gave him the strawberry milkshake and said: ‘Miss! Can I talk to you?’

“From that day, we were able to have some form of relationship and we were able to support him to access services and we got him into accommodation. His wellbeing was not good and he had some mental health concerns and he is now getting the support he needs.”

Our outreach team now has around 12 members of staff with specific roles such as working with young people who have been in care, an accommodation support worker and an employability specialist.

“A lot of young people, when we come across them, have been through a whole history which has led to them unfortunately living on the streets,” she says. “They have been through a lot of challenges, trauma and adverse childhood experiences and many of them feel let down.

“For us, it is about building that trust and relationship with them and just being a consistent figure in the hope that eventually, they’ll trust us enough to talk properly to us and get the support they need.”

The project has been a success as for the last two years, there have been no under 25s found to be sleeping rough in Birmingham in the government’s annual snapshot count. However, Vanessa says they don’t just work with young people who are rough sleeping, but those at risk of homelessness to stop them getting to that point. “A lot of the young people we support are on a trajectory to rough sleeping and may have had lots of tenancy breakdowns or have barriers to returning home.

“We navigate young people to the right services and work closely with places like substance misuse services and we help them resolve issues with benefits.

“Some young people are facing loneliness and isolation and we get them involved in meaningful activities and take them on trips and find out about their aspirations and hopes for the future.”

Vanessa says that as well as coming across some heartbreaking stories, they have had some wonderful success stories too. They have helped young people who were historically hard-to-reach who are now in longer-term accommodation and have got full-time sustainable jobs.

She adds that sometimes just giving young people the “normal” things that others take for granted has a huge impact on building their confidence. They often take young women who have been living on the streets to get their hair and nails done and young men for a haircut.

“The difference something like this makes to young people can’t be underestimated. I remember we took one young man who had been sleeping rough for a long time and bought him some new clothes and then took him to a barbers for a shave and a haircut.

“He was walking through the city centre afterwards and someone actually stopped and asked him for change! It was heartwarming and comical to see his reaction and he said: ‘It’s me!’ but the homeless person asking him for change hadn’t recognised him.

“Normally, this young man would unfortunately spend a lot of time on the streets trying to earn an income himself. But on that particular day, people were asking him for change.

“The change in him from that day was unbelievable. Feeling and looking good gave him confidence and he felt recognised and visible.

“It gave him a real sense of hope for the future.”

Text taken from i news article here. 

i’s “Building Futures” Christmas Appeal this year is in aid of End Youth Homelessness, a national movement of the UK’s leading youth homelessness charities.

Their campaign urges readers to donate towards a goal of £90,000 so End Youth Homelessness can get young people the help they need, when they need it so they can achieve their full potential and have a place they can call home.