Miriam Halamy

It’s the time of year when everyone is thinking about festivals of light which give a warm glow to our homes at the darkest point of winter. Many people in the UK are getting ready for Christmas, putting up the tree and stringing lights outside the house.

My family are Jewish and we are preparing for Chanukah which begins this year on December 23rd. Our festival involves the lighting of candles for eight consecutive nights and of course, the children get plenty of presents.

But what about young people who don’t have a home and family to spend the festivals with? What about teenagers who find themselves homeless over Chanukah or Christmas? Our televisions are pumping out good cheer and shops are stuffed to the brim but if you are on the outside looking in, my heart is breaking for you.

According to the charity Centrepoint, 103,000 young people in the UK presented to their council in 2017/18 as homeless or at risk and over 50% “left home because of family relationship breakdown.” Reasons vary but include mental health issues such as hoarding.

My novel, Behind Closed Doors, was inspired by the rising statistics on teen homelessness and I decided to focus on the reasons why this happens. In my book, Josie and Tasha are both fifteen. Tasha is already homeless – she is sofa surfing to avoid the unwanted sexual advances of her mother’s new boyfriend. She is no longer safe at home. Josie’s mother is an extreme hoarder and has filled up every corner of the house, including her bedroom. There is no room for her at home anymore. Josie and Tasha form an unlikely friendship in their hour of need, but will they end up sleeping on the streets as things come to a head?

The festival of Chanukah celebrates a perceived miracle following the ransacking of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Greeks. After the Jews fought back and reclaimed Jerusalem, they found the Eternal Light above the Ark where the Torah scrolls were stored was running out of oil. It would take eight days to get more supplies. They lit the Light and miraculously the oil kept burning for the entire eight days.

Lighting the menorah in my home each night, with my children and grandchildren safe and cared for around me, my thoughts often turn to the teenagers who have no idea where they will lay their head that night. Both Festivals of Light have stories of miracles behind them. But the greatest miracle for our time would be that every young person who needs a safe berth for the night would be automatically provided one by the council.

I will be donating to Shelter, as I have been since it was founded in 1969 and I would encourage you to donate to a homeless charity this year if possible, to help spread light and warmth for our homeless teenagers.

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