During the dark, chilly days as we crank up the central heating, it’s easy to take warmth and comfort for granted. Not everyone is that fortunate.

Henok arrived at Hillbrook House in August 2018, aged sixteen. War and conflict had driven him from his family and home country of Eritrea in search of a better and more stable life.

“I travelled through Ethiopia, the Sudan, Libya, Italy and France,” says Henok, now 18. “It was a difficult journey and I had little money. I spent six months in a refugee camp in Calais, sleeping under a bridge.”

Arriving in the UK with nothing but the clothes he wore, a phone with no charge and unable to speak English, Henok sought help from the authorities. Surrey Social Services contacted YMCA Hillbrook House, our safe, secure and affordable accommodation in Redhill for young homeless people, and we were able to offer Henok a place to stay.

YMCA’s housing support staff enrolled Henok in healthcare and education services, as well as guiding him through a range of life skills such as opening a bank account, budgeting, and benefit claims. He began taking English classes to improve his communication skills and is currently a student at East Surrey College studying ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

Henok has now been granted 5 years’ asylum, thanks to the dedicated support of his YMCA key worker. He rents a room in YMCA East Surrey’s Move On property in Merstham, where, with continued support from Housing staff but less overall supervision, he is taking another step towards independent living.

“I am so relieved to be here,” says Henok. “It is hard to make a home in a new country, but I am happy now. I had nothing and the YMCA gave me everything I need.”

YMCA East Surrey helps many young people like Henok, providing opportunities for people facing homelessness within the local community to access housing and support that meets their individual needs. 

“In the last twelve months, YMCA East Surrey has provided a home to 91 young people with nowhere to stay,” says the charity’s Chief Executive, Ian Burks. 

“We received 164 housing applications between May and June last year, which was an increase of 412% from 2019 and shows just how great the current local need is for housing projects like Hillbrook House and our Move On properties.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness, please call YMCA East Surrey’s housing team on 01737 773089 or go to 

www.ymcaeastsurrey.org.uk for further information.

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