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