Actor Michael Sheen has helped launch a new hotline for young people who are homeless in Wales — the first national hotline that operates outside regular working hours.
The free helpline — which can be reached on 0800 328 0292 — will launch as of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and will work to make sure that young people know what resources are available to help support them as soon as they need help.
It’s been launched by the End Youth Homelessness Cymru campaign, a 10-year campaign driven by homelessness charity Llamau, in collaboration with other homelessness charities.
Sheen, as an outspoken activist against youth homelessness, is an ambassador for the 10-year campaign.
The idea for the hotline was inspired by research that showed 76% of young people who are homeless didn’t know where to go for support when they first became homeless, according to Llamau.
We are so proud to launch the #youthhomelesshelpline today - the first out of hours helpline for homeless young people in Wales, open from 5pm this evening. We're so grateful to everyone who has supported the helpline, including #EYHC ambassador @michaelsheen#nbscommunityfundingpic.twitter.com/wpthyrkH6B— Llamau (@LlamauUK) February 26, 2019
“Young people very often don’t know where to go or what to do when they find themselves homeless,” said CEO of Llamau, Frances Beecher, in a statement. “Why would they when they think it’s something that will never happen to them.”
“We want young people to get help and support as soon as they need it, so that they can avoid the dangers and risks that come with being homeless for long periods of time,” she added.
The issue of homelessness is addressed by the UN's Global Goals — 17 goals that work together to end extreme poverty by 2030 — under Goal 11 for sustainable cities and communities. The goal calls for everyone to have access to adequate, safe, and affordable housing and basic services.
According to Llamau, youth homelessness in Wales is a “hidden epidemic” — and is often a result of causes like family breakdown, domestic violence, domestic abuse, or substance abuse. The true extent of the problem can be difficult to gauge given that many young people are, according to Llamau, sofa surfing or sleeping on friend's floors, and so haven't approached their local authority for help.
"The time immediately after a young person becomes homeless is critical," the charity says on its website. "Without access to support and advice, many have no choice but to make an impulsive and potentially dangerous decision about where to sleep that night."
"The more time that passes, as the generosity of friends and family runs out, the more dangerous these decisions are likely to become," it adds.
The charity Llamau estimates that more than 7,000 people under the age of 25 ask for help with homelessness every year in Wales.
Meanwhile in 2017-2018, over 7,500 young people aged between 16 and 24 went to their local authority for support with homelessness, according to Welsh government statistics — an increase of 23% from 2015.
In response to the issue, young people who were homeless launched a petition in July 2016, calling for the government to create a dedicated out-of-hours helpline for support.
Despite 95,000 people signing the petition, the helpline wasn’t created — so End Youth Homelessness Cymru launched a public appeal in November 2017 to find funding to launch the helpline instead.
“This helpline is trying to respond to what young people are asking for — a helpline in Wales and to raise understanding of problems young people are facing today,” added Beecher.
While it’s initial aim was to raise £60,000 for the helpline launch, the appeal was more successful than anticipated — raising over £90,000 from donations from the public, the Nationwide Building Society, and a collaboration with BT.
The funding is now enough to keep the helpline going for a year, according to Llamau, run by a mixture of paid staff and trained volunteers.