Young people go to school, grumble about chemistry, whisper through classes, try to steer the teacher off topic and count down the minutes until the bell rings. As it sounds they race out of school and at some point go home. At home they are cooked for, their clothes are washed and people care about their day. It’s taken for granted.
But for some young people the final school bell sounds like dread rather than joy. They don’t have anyone waiting for them at home. Hundreds of school-aged people in Newcastle alone have no home at all.
This was the situation that Simon Lymn, now the facilities manager of RGS Newcastle, found himself in as he began his A-Levels. For him time outside of school was “very dark and sad. I spent a lot of time on my own.”
On his fifteenth Christmas Lymn left his parents’ home following a “blazing row” with his mother. He had sensed for a while that his parents’ relationship was struggling and became increasingly frustrated as they would not tell him what was going on.
Eventually Lymn challenged his mother about why he was seeing his Dad less and less and why there were different men taking her in to work. Unlike their other arguments this one did not blow over. The next day was Christmas morning and Lymn’s mother came in to his room, not carrying a stocking but further conflict.
He soon packed his bags and left. Lymn spent the next couple of years in a state of what he now sees was hidden homelessness.
Crisis defines hidden homelessness as people who legally qualify as homeless but who have not been provided for by councils. The situation can vary hugely from person to person, but typically a hidden homeless young person will move in and out of several different accommodation situations. They may stay with friends, sleep rough, sofa surf or stay in a B&B, but ultimately they have no permanent home of their own.
Lymn’s mother told him he couldn’t stay in the house so, whilst studying for his O-Levels, he ended up living with several different people including his girlfriend’s parents and a single mother who had children of her own. Eventually Lymn’s father, who was a seafarer and had been away at work when the argument broke out, arranged for him to stay in a B&B.
“I just couldn’t cope,” he explained. “I was on my own for most of the time. I was fed, watered, bills were paid but at that age you need other support.”
Lymn saw his mother just once in about two and half years and this was when she wanted to find out where his father was to sort out their divorce papers. He knew little more of what his father was doing.
“I was finding it increasingly difficult to cope at school,” Lymn said. It made him, by his own description, an “obnoxious young man.” Eventually Lymn and his school agreed that he had to leave.
30 years later he sits back in school with his own office, dressed in a grey suit, with shiny shoes and a burgundy tie. Lymn’s story is one of success. After leaving school he managed to get a job as a policeman in the military and then developed a career as a physical training instructor in the army. He went to University at the age of 43 to gain an executive MA from Durham Business School. He now has a wife and two daughters and has spent the last five years working at RGS Newcastle.
He attributes this partly to a “steely core which meant that I wasn’t going to completely collapse.” But, he continues, “I needed some support from which I could flourish and luckily I found that within the military.”
The key here is that he found a structure in which he could live and develop. There are so many others in need of this structure and support, of which their family and circumstances have deprived them.
Lymn says in Newcastle alone there are at least 400 young people going homeless at any one time – equivalent of a third of the number of pupils at RGS. There are many charities that work with hidden homelessness in the city but it is still a relatively under-acknowledged group.
Lymn has been involved with organisations such as the YMCA, Rathbones, who help young people struggling in school, and Remount, which helps ex-service people reintegrate into civilian life. Last year he was helping a young man in Liverpool find accommodation.
He says there is a need for people to grow in awareness of hidden homelessness and that we can help by being more aware and open to homelessness. He suggests buying a coffee for the homeless people we see each day on the city streets.
His relationship with his mother remains difficult but has made him intent on maintaining a strong family unity between his wife and daughters: “It has always been the aim to make sure their [his daughter’s] relationship is better than mine was with my parents.”
His aim now “is to live a good life as well as I can.” He sums up a common feeling to us all who muddle our way through life: “there are times when you wonder if you have been very successful at it.”