A couple of weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to be featured in The Independent newspaper. The article focuses on Zubairi Sentongo, a YMCA Open Door resident who moved to Wolverhampton after a difficult childhood in Uganda.
The article goes on to share Zubairi’s story and how he was able to turn his life around, thanks to the help of caring Open Door Hosts, who took Zubairi in and gave him warmth, shelter and hope.
You can read the full article on the Independent’s website, but here’s an extract:
Zubairi was born in Kampala to a poor family and never knew his father. When he was four, his mother emigrated to London and found work in an industrial bakery, sending what little money she could to her son and his older siblings. “My childhood was not perfect, not even close to perfect,” Zubairi says. “We could never afford to go to school, the only thing we could do was hang around and try to look for food. And when we found food, we’d go to sleep.”
It took years for Zubairi’s mother to secure the paperwork for him to join her in London. He arrived in 2011, aged 15. “When I got here, I looked at her and thought, this is the lady that always spoke to me, this is the lady that gave birth to me.” The only tear Zubairi sheds while recounting his youth now emerges, prompting David to go in search of a tissue. “It was very difficult,” he explains. “Mum wanted me to go find a job, but I had a dream. I wanted to be an engineer and in England I had the opportunity to go to school.”
Not long after Zubairi’s arrival, the family moved to Wolverhampton. He was determined to fulfil his ambition, while his mother remained desperate only to pay the bills. He began working part-time but it became impossible to juggle school and employment, and relations at home became strained. “She didn’t necessarily kick me out, but I could see where it was heading,” Zubairi recalls. “I kept seeing the landlord knocking on the door. She said she was going to find a smaller place and that I wouldn’t have a bedroom.”
More than 80,000 young people experience homelessness each year, a figure that has risen by 57 per cent since the start of the financial crisis, according to Citizens Advice. The leading cause is family breakdown. “Some parents literally can’t afford to keep their children at the moment,” Neville McIntosh says. He was born in Wolverhampton and is now a floating support worker for YMCA’s Black Country Group. “Welfare reform has a massive amount to do with it,” he adds, singling out harsh new penalties for benefits claimants, the bedroom tax and the household benefits cap.
“Sometimes the parents will call back and say, ‘how is my daughter or son doing?'” Stanley Ifamene adds. He matches supported-lodgings hosts with young people, providing further support throughout each placement. “They will say, ‘it’s not that I don’t like my child, but it’s the circumstances’. They have just told them, ‘I can’t accommodate you any more’.”
Zubairi had no choice but to move out of his mother’s flat early last year. A period of “invisible” homelessness followed, on friends’ sofas. Then came nights in a Wolverhampton park, where life began to feel cruelly familiar. “I used to try to keep myself busy to get to the end of the day and it was hard to find food again,” he says. “I encouraged my friends to stay out late. It was warmer with people around but when they leave, you notice how cold it is.”
Zubairi is just one young person who has thrived, thanks to the support of our Hosts. If you have a heart for young people and a spare room, why not consider becoming an Open Door Host? The YMCA holds regular preparation courses where you can meet existing Hosts and some of the young people who are benefiting from the project.
For dates or more information on Open Door, please contact Host Co-ordinator, Rachael Taylor on 0121 524 1974