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Stories from the street

 
 
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Messages from our Outreach Workers

“It breaks my heart when I have to give a young person a sleeping bag and tell them to sleep close to our building for safety because no matter how hard we try, we cannot get them into any accommodation for the night.”
 
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"I said: What are you doing here? You haven’t worked on the street in years. She said: ‘Times are tough. So I decided to return and work on the streets for a couple of weeks, to get some money and get us by over the next few months. It is only for a couple of weeks – just enough so I can keep my kids in school’.”
 
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“There is a high risk of violence or exploitation with young homeless people in my area – especially in winter. I know of instances where young women have exchanged themselves just for food.”
 
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“You watch a young intoxicated girl who has just come into the city for the night with her friends, getting targeted by the guys in the park. You can only hope that she has listened enough to us to realise the danger and she will get on that last train home and return to her family.”
 
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“I watched this angry young man full of aggression, put down his beer can and pick up the brush and begin to paint. A couple of minutes later he began to smile and talk.”
 
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“I watched with pride as she graduated from high school and saw her joy when she was accepted into university. I cannot thank enough a group of strangers who banded together and believed in her enough that they opened their hearts and wallets, giving her an education and a chance in life.”
 
 
 


He sees himself as a wasted space

When Paul* came home one day he found his mum inside with another man.  When his dad came home later, and drunk, he tried to stop him from going inside the house.  His dad flew into a rage and beat Paul with a star picket from the garden.  Paul never went home again – he was 14.

Paul, now 16, sleeps wherever he can find a safe place to bed down.  He sleeps out in squats, the local multi story car park or wherever he feels safe and warm.  Sometimes he sleeps in train carriages.  Paul has a few “bolt holes” around the place where he stores his prized posessions such as a small camp cooker, a doona and some cutlery.

When Paul was first on the streets he became acquainted with an older couple who prostituted him out to men.  Like his parents, they abused him emotionally and physically and after several beatings he eventually went back to the streets on his own.

Paul is isolated both physically and emotionally and sees himself as a “wasted space”.  He has no stability, no money and no hope for a better future.  He is just 16 yet he feels that he is of no value to his community.  He is one of many young people who have slipped through the support system and he is surviving the best way he can.

I have been working with Paul for several months now.  My contact with him is irregular at this stage - sometimes I see him 3-4 times a week and then I won’t see him the next.  The absence of a supportive family and positive adult influence in his life has left Paul highly defensive and untrusting.  He has acquaintances on the street but no solid relationships with anyone and it was one of these acquaintances who referred Paul to me.  I had seen him on the streets but had been unable to even engage eye contact with him.

Paul is extremely fearful that he will be discovered by DHS or the Police and either forced into state care or to return to his parents.  He fears that he will be locked away with no chance of escape.  This makes it extremely difficult to connect Paul to services that can assist him as his fear overrides his need for assistance.

His paranoia extends to everyone, not just to the community services that he feels will trap him into “the system”.  He already suffers bouts of depression which he self-medicates with alcohol and drugs.  My concern is that this, coupled with his increasing paranoia and mistrust, will further deteriorate his mental health.

Paul is a good looking kid, quite intelligent and can be very engaging when he wants and this, in conjunction with his isolation, makes him an enticing target for pedophiles in the area.  While Paul is suspicious and untrusting of people, an experienced pedophile may be able to manipulate him into a situation where Paul becomes reliant on him for survival.  I am constantly talking with Paul about his personal safety on the streets and I can only hope that my interactions with him will provide a foundation of support that he can rely on so that he does not become more vulnerable than he already is.

My main objective at the moment is building a rapport with Paul to instil a sense of trust, not only with me but also with the services that can assist him.  I have introduced him to several community meals programs to try to give him some food security and I’m hoping to connect him to Centrelink in the coming months to give him some financial assistance.  From there I will work with Paul to find him accommodation and in the long term I hope to engage him into services that can address his mental health issues.  We have a long road ahead of us but I cannot give up on him because, underneath it all, he’s just a sad little boy.

Open Family Australia Outreach worker.

* Name changed


Grace

Grace's story

Grace suffered abuse from the one person that should have protected her – her mother.

When Grace was just a young child, her mother gave her prescription medicines - drugs such as Valium to keep her quiet.

'I didn't choose this path in my life, my mother chose this path for me.' - Grace

 

This was the start of a real life tragedy. Grace grew up in a series of abusive circumstances; leading to a life involving drugs, crime and no place to call home.

Today, Grace still struggles to come to terms with the abuse from her mother, wondering if she will ever get over it. It is not the risk or harm that Grace has been exposed to throughout her life that saddens and troubles her most. It is the realisation that the abuse and risk was inflicted by the one person that should have loved and protected her.

To rescue a young person and get them back into a safe environment means our outreach workers need to understand the tragic circumstances that lead them to drugs, stealing, and a life on the streets.

When our outreach worker Byron first met Grace, she was living in a "squat", taking drugs and stealing to feed her addiction. Byron wondered why Grace's life took this particular path and started to explore Grace's past.

"I first thought about suicide when I was 11. Mum had stopped giving me Valium and so I started taking the drugs from mum's boyfriend at the time. The house we lived in was small and there were so many people coming and going. I didn't have my own bedroom and I wasn't told to go to school. There were many times I was sent to buy drugs for the adults."

It was at this point Byron explains that Grace's life really spiralled out of control.

"Grace was in and out of home, staying with older men and in unsafe situations. Perhaps at this point if Grace's mother had helped, she may not have fallen deeper into drugs. As often happens with drug addiction, Grace took to organised crime in order to feed her addiction. From 14-17, Grace stole cars and eventually was caught by police."

Byron knew that in order to get Grace away from these risky behaviours and situations, he would have to support Grace through many hurdles. The first issue was to ensure that Grace would not end up in juvenile detention. Whilst this was happening, Byron then contacted her father to reunite them and ask for him to provide accommodation for Grace - if only for the short term. Thankfully Grace is now living fulltime with her father's family.

For the last 12 months, Byron has helped Grace by encouraging her to deal with her drug addiction, arranging social security benefits, supporting her through court appearances and ultimately leading her to the positive and safe environment that she enjoys today.

"The path that Grace is on now looks brighter. I am so proud of the person that Grace is today. Although she has some dark days, she will contact me for support and we work through it together. It did take some time for Grace to trust me, but now she will talk over any issue – big or small." says Byron.


When I was a little girl I wanted to be so many things

A teacher, a policewoman, a singer ... but what I really wanted to be was a professional netballer.  That’s what I wanted to be.

My real Dad abused me and my sister everyway possible. I saw my Mum being tortured, once he put a face washer over her face and poured boiling water over her.   I tried to protect my little brother as much as possible.

Dad would drug us with morphine to have his way with us and so he didn’t have to look after us. That is how our addiction started. He died when I was 9, six months after we escaped. I took on a lot of the parental role, helping my mother and looking after my brother and sister.

I left school in Year 12, halfway through, because I was pregnant with my son. I thought it was important to get a job - get a certificate in business behind me to make money for the baby because I didn’t want to be on the dole.

I would be dead if it wasn't for my son – I would have killed myself without having him in my life. He is the only reason I am here.

I am really struggling. It is not so much the stuff that my Dad did to me, and not just what my uncle and stepdad have also done to me, but that I have major trust issues with my Mum. She denies everything yet she married the guy who abused me and my sister.

Next year I am going to TAFE to finish my VCE so I can go onto university. I was doing Year 12 last year and was devastated I had to stop that. But I needed to be there for my sister who tried to kill herself and look after her in the hospital. I also needed to be there for my Mum to get through that.

I have had to push away a bit from my family especially my Mum because she always dumps stuff on me. I love her and I feel really guilty for having to pull away but I need to be right myself cause I am not getting anywhere … I am going back and forth, back and forth.

If I had a daughter I would tell her not to sell your body on the streets because once you start it is hard to stop.  Do not take drugs.  Respect yourself.  Find someone you can trust and be open with them for everything so you can talk to them, talk your problems out instead of delaying them with drugs.

In five years time I want to have finished Year 12 and going to university to study law. I can’t do this on my own. I need stability, strategy and someone there for me full time. I need to develop that full-on trust for someone. For me to be with an Open Family worker, I need to learn to develop that. I want to be out of housing commission, not street working and off the methadone.

That’s my dream now.

*Michelle


A day in the life of an Outreach Worker

8.15am
Dropped off a cheque for housing to Sarah, a young mum. Sarah is 24 years old and has a 2 year old daughter Hannah.  I’ve been working with Sarah to find long-term accommodation for her and Hannah for several months and have been able to secure a private rental where part of the rent is subsidised through a private rental program. This is a great outcome as it means that both Sarah and Hannah are no longer sleeping in Sarah’s car.  
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9am
Attend mediation between DHS and Ben, a 24 year old male client, regarding custody of his three children.  The mother of the children currently has custody, however she is using amphetamines and is not a stable influence, so Ben is seeking full custody. I’ve been working with our Transitional Housing Support workers to get Ben into housing and have been supporting him with referrals to services and with the mediation with DHS.  
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10.30am
Accompanied 16 year old male client, Daniel, to court regarding an outstanding fine.  Being only 16, Daniel has no income and wasn’t able to pay the fine, which consequently kept increasing with non-payment penalties.  I’ve been mentoring Daniel for some time and working on getting him assistance from other services and because of that, the judge wiped the fine and all costs.  We can now concentrate on addressing his other more important issues like accommodation, education and employment. 

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12pm
I took Carmen, a 23 year old female client, to Centrelink to organise welfare payments.  Carmen has recently escaped an extremely violent partner and I’ve been working to re-unite her with her family, get into counselling and establish an income so she can start to rebuild her life. 

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1pm
I took another client to Centrelink.  Afra is 16 years old and heavily pregnant.   I’ve been working with her for two months now. Initially the priority was to secure housing as she was homeless. Now that we have worked together to address that issue and she is in stable accommodation, the next step is setting up welfare payments for her so she is able to support her child. 

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2.30pm
Spoke to Taylor, a 15 year old female client, on the phone. Taylor is homeless after leaving home due to issues with her mother who is schizophrenic.  This young girl has become sexually active, particularly with older males, and has been couch surfing between relative strangers.  She is also a heavy user of illicit drugs.  I am working on assisting her across all of her issues, primarily with housing to get her away from the people she is currently associating with. I will then continue working with Taylor for as long as she needs in order to address her issues with drug use, education and employment. 

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3pm
Accompanied a male client, 18 year old Adam, to a local substance abuse service for treatment.  Adam was homeless, but I’ve recently secured him accommodation and we are now focusing on addressing his problematic substance use.

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4.30pm
Visited two clients, 20 and 21 years old, who are currently living on one of the local beaches.  They have been sleeping on the beach for a number of weeks as it is difficult to secure accommodation.  Working with a local housing support worker I am close to being able to secure transitional housing for the couple which will give them a place to stay for 12 weeks, hopefully with the potential to then move into long-term accommodation. 
 
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5.30pm
Finally got in touch with Steve who I have been working with sporadically over the past few months. Steve is 18 and tends to disappear for periods of time where I am unable to contact him.  He has been using amphetamines for some time now and also has mental health issues which are being exacerbated by his drug use.  I have organised for him to see a psychiatrist as well as getting him Medicare and Health Care Cards so that he can receive subsidised treatment.  Steve is still fairly stand-offish however, this is a common trait with our clients as many have had their trust betrayed in the past. As we spend more time together he seems to be more comfortable accepting my assistance. 

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9.30pm
Received a call from the local police about a 19 year old female who had been bought into the station as the police were concerned about her safety. She is homeless and had not eaten in more than a day as well as exhibiting symptoms of mental health issues.  I went to the station to speak to both her and the police and I have taken her on as an intensive client.  I will start the process of securing relevant service assistance for her immediately.

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Open Family Australia
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West Melbourne VIC 3003
T. 1300 669 600
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