Youngsters spotlight plight of homeless

With the recent cold snap refusing to abate households across Norfolk have been turning up the heating and seeking solace under the warm and welcoming folds of the winter tog duvet.

YOUNGSTERS swapped warm home comforts for a night on the freezing cold streets of Dereham - to help raise awareness of the plight of homeless people.

Temperatures dipped to an icy minus three degrees centigrade as the youngsters, helped by members of the county council's youth service and representatives from several homeless organisations, got first hand experience of what it is like not to have a roof over your head at the coldest time of year.

The sleep out also raised hundreds of pounds for the Salvation Army, whose soup kitchens are such a welcome site for the homeless.

Jordan Barrett, 17, said: 'It is so important to raise awareness of homelessness.

'A lot of people take for granted that they have their own house and they can keep warm but we should all take a minute to think about those who are not so lucky and live on the streets.'

Matthew Blanchette, also 17, said he had been shocked to learn that on the streets of London each night there were thousands of ex-service men alone sleeping rough.

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He said: 'They have come back from wars and now have nothing. In other cases people may not have had the best start in life and need help.'

Early in the evening spirits were high as the youngsters prepared makeshift shelters out of cardboard, bin liners and anything else they thought might protect them from elements.

But as the evening wore on the temperature dropped and flakes of snow began to fall. The small fire became a focal point for some while others gathered around the soup kitchen hoping something to eat might make them feel a bit warmer.

Gordon Partridge, Breckland Council's principal environmental officer, said most of the youngsters slept out right through the night and that everyone involved slept out for at least an hour.

'This has given the young people an idea of what it is to be homeless but people on the streets would not have the extras we have such as survival bags,' he said.

'In the morning virtually everyone said their view of homelessness had changed because of the experience.'

Last year 129 young people between the age of 16 and 17 made enquiries to Breckland Council about housing and homelessness.

Nigel Harvey from Stonham Homestay, a free housing support service for people who are at risk of losing their home, said: 'It is terrifying being out on the streets and it is very unsafe.

'Often people tend to walk all night to keep warm and then sleep during the day because it is warmer and safer.'

If you are worried about losing your home or need advice on homelessness contact Stonham Homestay on 0845 1550390 or email