For half a century, the New Horizon Youth Centre has been working with vulnerable young people, providing them with the information and tools to transform their lives and escape the trap of homelessness. The centre has migrated around central London, running from Soho and Covent Garden at times, but it is now securely settled on Chalton Street.
The large, barn-like building acts as a day centre for anyone aged 16-21 who finds themselves in a position of homelessness and in need of both immediate relief and more long-term support. We popped in one Monday lunchtime to have a chat with Owen Duff NH’s media and communications coordinator.
As the chef, who seemed to have a private joke with everyone who walked past, served up a hot lunch, young guys sat at computers, others played guitar warming up for their afternoon of busking, while some popped in and out of counselling sessions. In this hotbed of warmth and activity, we still managed to get a greeting and an offer of a cuppa by almost everyone who walked past.This atmosphere, Owen later tells us, is what makes this place so unique. “There is just such a strong sense of community here,” he says, “which really translates across to the young people.” The centre offers a kind of one-stop-shop for young people. Services range from offering short-term assistance through providing luggage storage, showers, food and laundry; these are particularly important for people who go to college or are in work but are sleeping rough.
The centre also has an in-house counsellor and an on-sight nurse, and provides advice and training on a range of social, psychological and legal issues, as well as having a very strong employment and education team. “In a way, we are supplying the support network that middle class people often have available to them,” says Owen. “We’re trying to provide the knowledge and back-up for people who just don’t have it.”
New Horizon also sources emergency accommodation for those who are in work but are unable to fend for themselves on minimum wage. They work with a housing association to provide reduced rent to young people. “On top of this, we do all kinds of workshops for art, health and fitness, and we also have our own music studio, so there’s stuff going on all the time.”Owen highlights that their services are available regardless of where the individual is from. “On average, New Horizons assists 2500 young people a year from across London. A lot of the time, the support an individual can receive will be tied to their borough’s ability to assist them. Whereas we’re a London-wide service: when people fall out of their council’s remit they get referred to us, this includes helping young people who are seeking asylum.”
The youth centre offers a unique and holistic service that intervenes at this crucial stage, preventing young homeless people from becoming entrenched rough sleepers. “Obviously homelessness is a big area of people’s concern, but there are particular issues around young street sleepers,” he says. “If we get to them at this early stage then there’s a good chance that we can prevent them from becoming trapped in a cycle of homelessness.”