I look forward to the first signs of Spring every year. Daffodils in a London park. Longer days. The chance to put away heavy coats – even if it is just to pick up a mackintosh for rainy old England instead. I feel less weighed down with my worries as the year begins to show signs of new life.
It brings to mind the line by the Austrian novelist Rainer Maria Rilke: “Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.”
But for some, the change of season does not bring such optimism. I am thinking of the young people who have found themselves without homes, many living on the streets or in shelters and refuges. Thanks to poverty, family breakdown, abuse and mental health issues, more than 150,000 young people ask for help with homelessness every year. The winter may be coming to an end but what hope do they have for the year?
The answer may lie in the example and work of Centrepoint, a charity with hostels in London, Bradford and Sunderland, and partnerships all over the UK. Every day the hostels are open, including Christmas Day, and the tireless staff are dedicated to making sure every young person that comes through the door is helped.
The charity, whose patron is HRH The Duke of Cambridge, helps more than 9,000 young people every year by providing a roof as well as support to tackle physical and mental health problems. A remarkable 90 per cent of those young people move on to a positive destination.
Centrepoint achieves such success through schemes to get young people into the world again, such as Workwise, a four-week programme which has been designed to help homeless young people overcome barriers that prevent them from finding and keeping a job. It also helps with health checks (both mental and physical), access to education, and providing emotional support to reconnect with family they may have left behind.
A recent innovation is the Street Football Association which offers life skills coaching and works with professional football clubs to give men and women the inspirational opportunity to represent their country or a top team.
But of course, we cannot leave all the work to this admirable charity. We need to find other ways to help young homeless people – perhaps through supporting those with mental health concerns, or intervening earlier when families break down.
It may seem unfair of me to remind you of winter again so soon – when we are barely into March. But Spring is not just a time to hope but a time to act. The Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott warned: “Unless a tree has borne blossoms in spring, you will vainly look for fruit on it in autumn.”
What better time do we have than now to work on this scourge of modern life? What better fruit could we harvest than a secure safe future for young people?
Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation