Sherborne teenager ‘abandoned to a homeless life of drugs’
A HOMELESS teenager who was forced to sleep rough in a tent for months is calling for action to protect the young and vulnerable in Sherborne.
When her dad’s business started to fail and her family broke down, Harriet Chalk, 16, said she felt so isolated she had no choice but to set up camp in fields around Sherborne with her ex-boyfriend.
Miss Chalk was due to start college in September last year, but instead found herself sleeping rough each night, wearing all her clothes at once to keep warm and regularly going hungry.
The former Gryphon School student, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism related to social situations, said she became more depressed and lost about four stone in weight in less than six months.
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She said: “I lost my self esteem and felt like I had lost part of my childhood. It made me grow up very quickly.
“It changed who I am forever.”
The pair struggled to find employment because they had no fixed abode and, after being refused sheltered housing as a couple, and no one to turn to but each other, the pair spiralled into a life of drugs.
Miss Chalk said: “It was something to do but it became something to rely on.
“It made you feel like a low life and that you mean nothing to anyone.”
Now, with the help of youth workers at the RendezVous Youth Centre, Cheap Street, she has called on councillors for help in boosting facilities and housing provision for youngsters finding themselves in similar situations.
Miss Chalk said: “There should be more support and better communication between organisations.
“I tried to reach out for help but there was no one but the RendezVous. We came here every day and they provided us with blankets, food, toiletries and we could use the facilities.”
Miss Chalk restarts her studies in September and is now living in sheltered housing.
She said: “After living in a tent, a good future is any future. I never want to go back to that. I can see a path ahead for me now.”
Youth worker Jemma Turner said the centre regularly helps homeless youngsters who become caught in a vicious cycle and can no longer live at home.
The 12-bed Oborne House facility, on Oborne Road, run by You Trust, is the only project in the area and accepts people from across Dorset.
She said: “Young people are not a priority. There are by no means enough housing opportunities to encourage them to live independently and successfully. It must be urgently addressed.
“We work with 13 to 25 year olds but we would point others in the right direction if they needed help.”
Last week town councillor Matt Hall said he was “deeply concerned” by the situation and called on district councillors for an investigation into provision in the area.