Wales

Michael Sheen helps launch new homeless helpline

Tents in street
Image caption Rough sleepers are seen on the street but charities say the real homeless number could be much higher

Cameron is 18, about to move into a new flat and studying computer science at college with plans to go to university.

He sounds like any other teenager but with one important difference - Cameron is rebuilding his life after becoming homeless at just 14.

He is part of what one of Wales' biggest charities called a "hidden epidemic" of youth homelessness.

Stories like his inspired actor Michael Sheen to help set up Wales' first national out-of-hours helpline.

Cameron, not his real name, said his relationship with his family broke down so badly he had to leave. He slept on friends' sofas and spent a night on the streets.

"It was quite sudden, it was a lot of stress... I panicked, I didn't know where to go or what to do. It was overwhelming," he said.

"When I left I had a spare set of clothes and that was it. I didn't have much money or anything, it was difficult."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael Sheen has backed the helpline

He soon felt a burden to his friends and their families and the uncertainty of what was going to happen had a devastating impact on his education.

"When things started to kick off at home, my grades were dropping and my behaviour was getting out of control," he said.

"In the end, the school asked me to leave, which didn't help my situation, because the problems I was having at home were a lot harder.

"I wasn't happy, I was fighting back against everyone and everything. I lost a few friends and opportunities."

Cameron did not know where to find help or who to talk to - something other young people told Hollywood star Michael Sheen when he spoke with them about youth homelessness.

That conversation led to the creation of the first national out of hours free helpline for young people at risk of homelessness.

The Youth Homeless Helpline is now open through the night and on weekends and trained volunteers will provide information on where young people can access safe temporary accommodation and offer advice and support.

Welsh Government statistics show 7,584 young people, aged between 16 and 24, approached their local authority for help with homelessness in 2017-18 - an increase of 23% from 2015.

Image caption The number of young people asking for help with homelessness is increasing

The charity Llamau has joined forces with other homeless charities under End Youth Homelessness Cymru.

Frances Beecher, from Llamau, said: "Homelessness is a hidden epidemic and what is so scary is that 76% of homeless young people have no idea where to turn.

"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."

Public donations and Nationwide Building Society have raised more than £90,000, securing the helpline for a year.

Llamau stepped in to help Cameron and he has been living in supported accommodation and has returned to education.

He is determined that his past will not shape his future.

The End Youth Homelessness Cymru helpline number is 0800 328 0292. You can also get help and information from Llamau online.

Image caption Frances Beecher said the helpline was "trying to respond to what young people are asking for"

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