Gang members desperate to escape a life of violence are being offered ‘safe houses’ in a scheme to combat knife crime in London.
More than 100 young people have so far been housed and helped with education and employment to give them a new life.
The safe houses are self-funded and led by pastors from Spac Nation, a church where 55% of those that attend have previously been involved in a life of crime.
“There are 15-year-olds dying on the streets and this should not be happening,” says Tobi Adegboyega, who leads the project. “It’s one of the reasons why we started this initiative. We have 23 self-funded safe houses across London.”
Mr Adegboyega claims the scheme will help save lives and cut violent crime.
“I have had to remove people from east London and put them in south London overnight otherwise they would die or end up killing someone else.”
Sky News has been given exclusive access to two secure houses used to place distance between gangs and vulnerable youths at risk of being sucked into them.
Those under 18 require permission from their local authority in order to be allowed to live in the houses.
Iges is a former drug dealer who started selling on the streets at the age of 13.
He told Sky News: “I saw my mum struggling, I was struggling.
“I was like ‘the best route for me is to go out on the street and sell drugs’.
“It was all normal, this is the ends. It’s not Chelsea or Kensington that you see, this is the ends.”
He said he now prays “for every young person to come out of the drugs game”.
Iges added: “At the end of the day it is black-on-black crime. We’re killing our own people.”
He said being in a safe house is a “dream come true” and he feels lucky to be housed in one, adding: “If I wasn’t here, it would either be jail or it would either be death.”
Demar, 14, is a former gang member who was stabbed seven times last month and was forced to leave his family home for his own safety.
“I didn’t know I’d been stabbed until I saw blood pouring out onto my shoes and I got so dizzy. One of my friends called an ambulance and I got taken to hospital,” he said.
“I don’t remember much but I woke up and they were trying to stop the bleeding. I spent a week in hospital. I’m so lucky to be alive.”
The capital has been blighted by a number of fatal stabbings this year. Figures show in the last five years, the number of teenagers being treated for knife wounds has risen by 55%.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has backed the safe house initiative following a series fatal of knife attacks in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington, constituency.
Ms Abbott told Sky News: “You can’t police your way out of knife crime and youth violence. You have to have an effective policing operation but the public understands you have to have a holistic solution and I think these safe houses may well be part of it.”
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, says safe houses should be rolled out and used by police forces.
He said: “My colleagues are tired of dealing with the fallout from knife crime and the police should be involved in schemes like these.
“In most cases young people might not feel confident accepting support from the police, so this is another way of reaching individuals who are considered dangerous.
“I think many of these young people falling into a life of crime are also victims themselves and we need to help them.”
Main image copyright: Sky News
Written by: Noel Phillips