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Sofa surfers targeted

A rise in teenage "sofa surfing" could be curbed with the introduction of learning coaches into 14-19 education.

Christine Chapman, deputy minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, told delegates at a conference on homelessness that the one-to-one attention of the new mentors could help keep a roof over young people's heads.

She agreed education was the way to prevent teenagers becoming homeless.

However, she did not back calls for housing issues to become a compulsory module of the personal, social and education curriculum, despite growing pressure from charity Shelter Cymru.

Delegates at the conference, held in the Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, heard how increasing numbers of young people were looking for a bed on a friend's couch after family break-ups.

Cases of domestic violence and bitter family feuds over sexuality were also included in a list of why Welsh teenagers were likely to leave home or be thrown out.

Rhian Jones, Shelter Cymru's education co-ordinator, said the number of Welsh schools using its Housemate pack, a resource on housing issues, had shot up to 55 per cent over the past year.

But she said: "We want feedback on what works in class - all schools should teach housing issues."

Around 250 learning coaches are being trained to act as mentors to young people as they carve out career choices. They will also deal with personal issues including family problems and exam stress.

Figures from Shelter Cymru reveal that more than 35,000 children in Wales live in poor, cramped housing conditions, such as bed and breakfast accommodation, after being made homeless.

Ms Chapman said Assembly government initiatives, such as its child poverty action plan, were aimed at helping under-18s in need. But young people who have turned their lives around after being homeless told how many of their peers were ignorant of where to find help.

They go into schools to deliver presentations on homelessness as part of Shelter Cymru's peer learning project. Secondary pupils learn where to find help, as well as hearing harrowing personal stories.

Jon Parvin, the programme's co-ordinator, told an audience how he found himself homeless twice.

"Homelessness can happen through no fault of your own. We try to change traditional perceptions of homeless people as tramps and drunks wondering the streets."

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