Jane’s problems are more than that of a typical 21 year-old mother but she’s trying to cope.
Alarm bells started ringing in Jane’s life from a very early age and when she was 16 she started to struggle desperately and her relationship with her parents broke down completely.
“I really had no idea what I was going to do. I felt completely lost but when Social Services became involved they referred me to First Housing in Derry,” said Jane (not her real name).
First Housing Aid and Support Services provides help and assistance to people who are homeless right across Northern Ireland.
First Housing is currently based in 28a Bishop Street (opposite the office of MP Mark Durkan) and one of the organisation’s schemes helped Jane to get back on the straight and narrow.
The Youth Accommodation Support Project (YASP) runs throughout Derry, Limavady and Strabane. YASP is for young people aged 16-25 who experience family breakdown and who struggle with housing and employment issues.
“If it wasn’t for First Housing, I really don’t know where I would be today. I have a support worker and she is there for me day and night. If I am having trouble at night all I have to do is send her a text and she will contact me first thing in the morning. First Housing is an amazing organisation - I am going through a bad patch in my life again at the minute but it’s good to know that I can get help from my First Housing support worker,” said Jane.
The anxiety and distress experienced by Jane in her teenage years would be enough to last most people a life time.
At the age of 17 she became pregnant but YASP helped her to find a house and get settled.
“Things were going well for a while but they were never perfect. When I was 20 the relationship that I had been in for the last five years broke down.
“It was a very negative relationship and the only way I could cope was by turning to alcohol and drugs.
“I am not a stupid person and I knew what I was doing was wrong but it was the only way I knew how to get through that awful time. When I reached rock bottom, I contacted my support worker at First Housing and I am now working towards getting myself back to where I was a few years ago,” said Jane who’s from the Waterside.
In the months before despair revisited Jane, she had completed several months of a psychology course at the University of Ulster, Magee campus.
“I still have a lot of work to do and believe me, I want to do this as much for myself and as my young child but I know it’s going to take time.
“It’s sometimes difficult to think about the future because of what I have been through but should everything work out how I hope it will I would love to return to university and complete my degree - that would be a dream come true. But until that happens, I just want to get a job and provide for my child.”
As well as helping young people like Jane with housing and family relationships, YASP also gives them advice and support on how to apply for jobs, complete an application form and the best way to present for interview.
“I’ve spoken to social workers in the past and because there’s such a stigma with them I tend to hold back on many of the things I want to say. But that’s not how it is here. When I am talking to my support worker it’s like talking to a friend. I can talk to her about absolutely anything and she’s really easy to get on with too so we always have a laugh too,” she smiled.
Jane added: “My support worker has given me job references and pointed me in the right direction when it comes to finding employment. I am still looking but I don’t know where I would be without her.”
Sandra Duffy is the Floating Support Co-ordinator for First Housing. Sandra has been working on the organisation’s YASP for the last eight years and said whilst progress is being made there is still a high number of vulnerable young people in need of help and support.
“We have had some amazing success stories over the years. We have one guy who contacted us when he was a teenager and now he is working for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service - he’s doing really well. We have plenty of stories of where young men and women have returned to the family home and repaired their relationships with their parents but not all stories end that way and it’s up to us to make sure we give suitable help and support to every young person we work with.”
Sandra has a wealth of experience when it comes to working with the homeless. Before joining First Housing, she worked for the Simon Communityand she understands that when it comes to helping young people find a solution to housing problems a one size fits all approach is not the way forward.
“The issues facing a homeless person in their teens or early twenties will more than likely not be the same issues facing a homeless person in their 40s - it’s because of this that we have the YASP.
“We operate on referrals and as a drop in centre but we have an excellent working partnership with the Western Trust’s Gateway Team and the Social Services. Honestly, we can’t speak highly enough of their professionalism and it’s because of this relationship that we are able to make sure the young people get the help and support they need.”
Sandra explained First Housing has noticed an increase in the number of young people with problems which have arisen from the use legal highs.
“In recent months and years we have definitely noticed an increase in young people using legal highs and I think it’s important to stress just how destructive they can be. It’s through working with young people that we are able to help them make a difference. I try to see the good in every young person that comes through our door - they are just like everyone else in the sense they want to be happy.”
For more information on First Housing or the Youth Accommodation Support Project contact the team on 02871 371849 or visit the website www.first-housing.com