STREET LIFE HOMELESS YOUTH CRISIS
At the age of just 14-years-old 'Julie' swapped a violent home for the streets of the Northern Beaches.
Embroiled in violence between her stepfather, her mother and herself, she turned to drugs, alcohol, and crime before the age of 14, “hanging around the streets" with distasteful peers, often seen sleeping in doorways of supermarkets and car parks.
She finally left home for good after her mother kicked her out, calling her "defiant and uncontrollable", but had nowhere or no one to turn. Vulnerable from her broken family relationship - and her biological father provided little support and has been mainly absent in Julie's life - Julie became homeless.
At 15, anxious and emotionally unstable, she was charged with threatening or causing injury to a person, assault, behaving in an offensive manner in a public place, and making serious threats to harm or kill via telecommunication.
At 16, she discovered Taldumande Youth Services (TYS), a non-profit organisation supporting vulnerable children, young people and their families between the ages of 12-21 across Sydney's Northern Beaches.
Caseworkers accommodated Julie in their crisis refuge, providing her with legal support, and help with employment and education. TYS also provided Julie with therapy for her behavioural and emotional issues, Medicare services and counselling at the Manly Drug Education and Counselling Centre.
Now, aged 19, Julie is in an independent unit at TYS, working as an apprentice hairdresser, enrolled in TAFE and maintaining her tenancy. She has been reunited with her family, seeing them on a regular basis, and is continuing her journey towards a positive path. She's one of the lucky ones.
Unfortunately, Julie's triumph over tragedy is not representative of the rising number of homeless young people on the Northern Beaches region. According to TYS, the last 18 months shows the number of young homeless people in the Northern Beaches represents the largest number of young people from any Northern Sydney area - and it's growing.
Paul Mackin, president and co-founder of 'One Meal-it makes a difference', lived on the streets when he was 15. Shunning the drugs and alcohol his peers turned to, he found refuge in cooking and now combines a career as a truck driver with providing fresh and nutritious meals to the Northern Beaches' homeless community several times a week.
"Approximately 150-200 people are homeless on the Northern Beaches," he says sadly, "and many are youths and young families.”
Lisa Graham, CEO of Taldumande Youth Services, confirms, "We are seeing an increase in young people and children under the age of 16 seeking homelessness accommodation services, and the highest number of young people seeking crisis accommodation in Northern Sydney are from the Northern Beaches.
"Homeless young people are presenting with far more complex needs than in the recent past. We are seeing increases in suicide ideation, recent suicide attempts, complex mental health Issues, and drug addiction, particularly problematic ice and cannabis use.”
Taldumande Youth Services has partnered with Mission Australia for early Intervention programs to try and prevent homelessness, and works tirelessly to keep them at home or provide alternative accommodation.
Out of the 608 total homeless youths aged 12-21 that TYS helped from August 2014 to February 2016, 142 were from the northern beaches. Heartbreakingly there are more homeless young people than beds available.
In the last 18 months, 41 homeless young people in the area have been turned away due to a lack of beds - and this is representative of most services, where the rising number of homeless youths and children are at serious risk of assault, rape and other horrific crimes.
"In the Northern Beaches, the number of homeless kids is spiralling out of control" adds Mark Haddleton from One Meal. He became involved in the charity in memory of his sister Sara, who left home at 13 and lived in Sydney's St Andrew's Catherdral Square for 19 years until she took her life in 2003. "There are ones you don't know about too,” he adds.
“They just hide in woodlands and beach cliffs."
Rachelle Elphick, area manager of Mission Australia in North Sydney, also reveals some homeless young people are couch surfers, who rotate sleeping with their friends, relatives or someone else to seek safer accommodation.
“We support hundreds of young people a year, but only have one crisis refuge across the whole of the Northern Sydney district for young people, which has seven beds in it," she confirms. "This is quite a small number in terms of the amount of youths we support.”
TYS provides a 24/7-crisis refuge for young people aged 12-21 and offers semi-independent housing programs with evening sleepover shifts, and a supported independent living program with options for one, two or three bedroom properties for those aged 16-21. It also includes Intensive Family Programs to rebuild broken families and preserve their unity.
"The complexities of these clients are highlighting serious gaps in services," adds Ms Graham, "and increasing the need for services such as Mental Health, Education, Police, Family, Community Services and Charity Organisations to be more innovative and constructive about how they can work together to find solutions."
Both One Meal's Mr Mackin and Mr Haddleton, who know what it's like to survive on the streets, agree. "Homelessness isn't a 9-5 issue," says Mr Mackin. "It doesn't happen during business hours. It happens 24/7, 365 days a year."
They, like the others, want the government to step in and provide increased access to 24-hour services for all homeless and emergency accommodation centres, which will hopefully reduce and, in time, eliminate the epidemic.
"In the country we are living in," adds Mr Haddleton, "and with the generosity of so many people, this should no longer be an issue."