Centrepoint estimates that as many as 25,000 young people in the UK could be at risk of homelessness this Christmas.
And research by the charity revealed those at risk were taking drastic steps such as a committing a crime purely so they would be taken into custody.
Paul Noblet, head of public affairs for Centrepoint, said: “We’re facing a crisis when it comes to youth homelessness – as many as 25,000 young people could be at risk of homelessness this Christmas alone. Behind that appalling statistic is a human being not much older than many of our children and grandchildren, who is alone, frightened and confronted with impossible choices.”
More than a quarter of the young homeless people surveyed by the charity admitted to having stayed with a stranger, while 12 per cent had done something illegal to get themselves arrested.
Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said: “It should shock and shame us all that thousands of vulnerable young people have nowhere to turn and nowhere safe to stay this Christmas.
“The choices they face to get off the streets are unthinkable to most of us, forcing them to put at risk their own safety and future.”
Centrepoint, which runs a network of hostels, aims to give vulnerable young people a safe place to stay, help them find a job and also work with them on any physical and mental health problems.
Mr Noblet said: “The situation is bleak but homelessness does not need to define a young person’s life if they receive the support they need at the right time.”
One Bradford man helped into training and rented accommodation by the charity told how he sold drugs and broke into caravans for a night’s sleep.
Jordan, 21, who did not want to give his surname, said: “I was definitely at rock bottom, if not lower than rock bottom.”
Mr Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne, said: “I visited a Centrepoint hostel last week and saw the great work the charity does. But I heard how deep cuts to government support and to housing benefit are making their job so much harder.”
Funding is a constant concern for those working with the homeless, including the St George’s Crypt shelter in Leeds.
Support worker Olivia Quick said: “There have been times here where we’ve not got enough campbeds for people to sleep on and there are a few shelters shutting down next year for lack of funding, so the problem is going to get worse.
“People seem to have this belief that homeless people are a different form of human, not part of our society, but everyone it just one step away from being that homeless person.”
Mr Healey has challenged the government to back a Labour plan to boost street outreach work, ensure hostels have secure funding and build more affordable rented homes.