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“My dream is to decorate and build homes for those who need them”

Zinnia, young homeless women

In aid of International Women’s Day, we are releasing a series of interviews with inspirational young women in the North East. Zinnia, young apprentice and decorator, reveals her motivations for helping young women who are at risk of becoming homeless.

For Zinnia, there are two things that she can’t be without in life: coffee and cheesecake. At 24, Zinnia is one of the many vulnerable young women in the North East who found herself living on the streets at a young age.

Her strength to overcome the ups and downs in her short life could be the perfect story for the novels she enjoys reading. However, Zinnia’s journey to live independently and secure her dream job hasn’t been easy. She has faced many scarier moments than the horror movies she is a fan of.

After giving birth and feeling she had no choice but to put her daughter for adoption, Zinnia was forced out of her foster care by no choice of her own. Moving in with her (now ex) boyfriend into a house didn’t help the situation either.

After over four years of being involved in a toxic relationship, Zinnia’s mental health was seriously damaged. The support of some friends partially helped Zinnia with her depression, self-harm and alcohol abuse, but it wasn’t enough.

The help and advice provided by YHNE and Centre Point have given Zinnia the strength she needed. By sharing her story, she hopes to inspire many other vulnerable young women at risk of being homeless to continue fighting for a better quality of life.

1. Did you feel at all threatened when you were at risk of becoming homeless?

I always had a fear of living on the streets even before I moved into foster care. When I lived with my parents, we used to move from house to house many times so I never had that feeling of security.

I can probably say that I’ve spent the majority of my life homeless. That is the reason why I have fought a lot to keep my current house. After a long time, I feel that I finally have my own ‘safe space’.

2. Looking back today, what do you think it was your major challenge?

Knowing now all the pain I had because of my ex, I wouldn’t have moved in with him that quickly. I would have probably thought more carefully about it. I had to go through a lot of problems and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to me anymore.

When you are at risk of becoming homeless, having a house is not your only concern. My mental health has suffered a lot. I also tried to help many people but I quickly realised that they were only using me. I didn’t trust anyone and therefore my behaviour with those who really wanted to help me was horrible. After getting support from Centre Point, it took me over a year to fully trust someone again.



3. Why do you think women are more vulnerable when becoming homeless?

I think that women are more at risk of being homeless. It is also very dangerous for many of them to be on the streets because they are victims of abuses and attacks, especially by men.

All these stories about kidnapping and rape make things even worse for them. From my point of view, men can stand out by themselves and many have the strength to do it. But many young homeless women don’t have that strength and confidence.

What about young homeless women?

For many young people, including women, the situation is extremely hard, especially when they ask for help.

When they go to seek help from their local councils, many are ignored because they are homeless. Many people in the council don’t trust young people because they think that young people only want a house to have parties, drink alcohol, or take drugs. That stereotype is really playing against them.

4. What would you recommend to young women who are experiencing homelessness?

If they feel that they are going to lose their house, they need to tell as many people as possible. They really have to raise the alarm about their situation as I did. Like in my case, someone knows or works in a place where they can help with contacts or provide support to get housing.

Young women need to fight hard to improve their situation. They really have to show the council and the local authorities that they are going to become homeless and they need their help and support. It is very difficult to say, but the most important thing for them is to be persistent and never give up.



5. Do you think that young women at risk of homelessness in the North East receive enough support?

I don’t think that there is enough support for them. There are a lot of people doing a great job to help as much as they can to prevent homelessness. However, there are still homeless people in the streets which means that something is not working.

6. Is there any particular area that needs to improve to offer homeless people a better life?

Housing support and affordability, without a doubt. Having the opportunity to access a house with an affordable price will make a great difference for homeless people.

Many people think that benefits are enough to help them. The reality is very different. It is very hard to get that support and many of them get stressed because the process can be a nightmare sometimes. Fighting for a house could also have a very negative impact on your mental health.

When I was at risk of being homeless, there were a lot of programmes that offered me the opportunity to live independently. These programmes are no longer available for many young people. I don’t know what many young people are going to do without having this essential support for them.

The majority of the support focuses on housing, but many authorities don’t really help homeless people to keep their houses. They don’t provide them the support they need in mental health, for example. It is true that they have a house, but they might lose it quickly because they are not able to keep it.

7. How has YHNE helped you with your own issues?

YHNE has helped a lot with my own confidence and mental health. Sharing my personal story with those who have the same situation is very useful for all of us.

Going to the Youth Hubs and taking part in activities with other young people has really opened my eyes to realise that I am not alone anymore. We are together in a space where we have a real voice to help those who have the same problems.

I think that many charities should start focusing more on preventing youth homelessness. Many charities help them with food, accommodation, and advice which is great. But many don’t really work on the origin of the issue and why this is happening.

8. How would you like to help vulnerable young homeless women?

I am hoping that sharing my story can help many young people to avoid what I went through. In the next ten years, I would like youth homelessness to not be a massive problem anymore.

To do that, the projects and work of charities as YHNE are essential to know more about the issues behind youth homelessness and find ways to improve their life.

9. You are currently working for the Autism Society and finishing your studies to become a painter and decorator, what would be your dream job in the future?

In the future, I would really like to work as a designer and decorator. Building houses for homeless people, particularly for young people, would be my ideal job. I am also thinking about buying and painting properties to give to those homeless people who really need them.

I strongly believe that homeless people should be put at first in terms of housing opportunities. If they have a place which is nicely decorated, they would have that ‘safe space’ again. They would feel human again and would do anything they can to keep that house.

10. What would you like to say to all women in the North East who are at risk of being homeless?

Staying strong is the best advice I can give them. I know that things could be very bad at the beginning, but if they fight and have the right support, their situation can get better again.

All women must stay together and be strong to help other women and resolve the real problems that they are going through.

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