'I owe my life to them': Man speaks of his past as Leyland homeless charity that helped him celebrates milestone

A young man who slept in the woods for two years was one of the 1,000 homeless people helped by Leyland charity SLEAP, supporting young people for 25 years.
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For 24-year-old Anthony - not his real name - SLEAP provided a lifeline and a first shot at living independently after years of being homeless.

He was made street homeless at just aged 14 after living in an abusive household, ended up sleeping in the woods and it went unnoticed for two years, until his grandma, who was also a full-time carer for his grandad living with dementia, took him in.

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He said: "I had never asked for help or let it show that I was struggling so much. I used to go to my grandmas once a week just for my only hot meal and she didn't know what was going on.

"One day, she asked me if I was struggling. She could see it on my face and in my eyes. I ended up living with her in her spare room until we both started to look for organisations that could help me."

The charity helps young people out of homelessness by pairing them up with a host family, who take them in and give them the support they need to find a job, learn essential life skills and domestic skills and get access to other vital services such as healthcare, career advice and debt management.

Once Anthony had applied to SLEAP, interviews were conducted and checks on potential host families to give him the best start into adulthood.

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At aged 17, he was paired with a Leyland family and was given the first taste of independence.

Anthony has been supported by SLEAP since being a teenager and now lives independentlyAnthony has been supported by SLEAP since being a teenager and now lives independently
Anthony has been supported by SLEAP since being a teenager and now lives independently

He said: "You meet a householder and have an introduction. If you both suit each other then you get a move-in date and go from there. I had no idea how to live for myself as I had never had support.

"I was taught how to look after myself, how to cook properly and just had conversations about my future which was surprising to me because it showed that someone cared for me when they hardly knew me - I felt like they really cared.

"For the first time I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. Even to make a cup of tea whenever I wanted really broke the ice, as I didn't need to ask and didn't feel like just a guest in someone's home.

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"It is like a family and seems right for people who are homeless and struggling. I haven't just learnt how to cope, I have learnt life skills and it made me realise the potential I had."

At 24 years old, he has now reclaimed his independenceAt 24 years old, he has now reclaimed his independence
At 24 years old, he has now reclaimed his independence

Now, Anthony is looking forward to this Christmas as a lodger in a shared house, working to tackle homelessness and working as a young advisor for the National Lottery advisory board.

And from his experience, he now stands as an ambassador for SLEAP and uses his difficult background to help others.

He added: "I owe my life to them and do as much as I can to help them. From where I was, I wouldn't ever believe I could be where I am today. They gave me the confidence and the voice to speak out."

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Leyland charity SLEAP have now recently celebrated 25 years of helping young people out of homelessness.

Bunting represented the 1000s of young people supported by the charityBunting represented the 1000s of young people supported by the charity
Bunting represented the 1000s of young people supported by the charity

Since they first started in 1995, SLEAP has helped more than 1,000 young people and on December 10th, they created a huge paper bunting trail – featuring 1,000 paper cut-outs of little people which measured more than 100 metres long.

At the Leyland civic centre, members of the SLEAP team, along with Anthony and the South Ribble Mayor Councillor Jane Bell held the bunting and celebrated their efforts as a charity in supporting thousands of young people.

Stela Stansfield, SLEAP Manager, said: “158 local people have welcomed homeless youngsters into their homes as host families for SLEAP. This really is the community at work.

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“SLEAP began as a Christian response to youth homelessness; we had a small group of people from local churches who wanted to do something to help young people in need.

“Now, 25 years on, as well as supported lodgings, we are working hard to help prevent homelessness and all the problems it causes. At SLEAP, we love it when we hear back from young people who have moved on and are now thriving in life.”

The Mayor of South Ribble, Councillor Jane Bell, said: “Speaking as a founding member of SLEAP myself, I take enormous pride in what we have managed to achieve over the last 25 years.

SLEAP manager Stela with the buntingSLEAP manager Stela with the bunting
SLEAP manager Stela with the bunting

"Having been part of a host family in years gone by, I know first-hand the commitments and sacrifices these host families make – but also the immensely rewarding feeling you get from helping a young person in their hour of need.

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“The fact that we’ve helped more than 1,000 young people into accommodation and helped them to overcome homelessness, find a loving home, and get a proper chance at life – just fills me with great joy

“I want to thank all of the generous host families who have opened their hearts and their homes to young people who needed a place to stay at a vulnerable time in their lives.

“I am delighted to be supporting SLEAP in my new capacity as Mayor of South Ribble and I will be fundraising hard between now and May 2022 to ensure the charity receives the vital funds it needs."

When the Post contacted Preston City Council, they revealed that rough sleepers in Preston city centre were significantly higher this year, when compared with 2019.

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In 2019, it was thought there were 14 people sleeping on the city's streets, with 23 this year.

The Leader of South Ribble Borough Council, Paul Foster, added: “The work they (SLEAP) have done to help young people in Leyland, South Ribble, Chorley and Preston is just incredible. We owe them a massive debt of gratitude as they have done so much work to tackle homelessness.

“I want to pay tribute to all the kind, selfless individuals who have welcomed young people into their homes to ensure they have a place to live. You are the real stars here and from the bottom of our hearts, we say a massive thank you.”

The charity is continuing to raise awareness of the work they do in a bid to recruit more host families. More information can be found here.

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