No closed doors for the young and homeless
It’s amazing what a lick of paint can do.
“I always shows people these pictures,” Elyce Duff, a senior worker at Samaritans Youth Services said, turning to her computer.
“The difference is amazing.”
The pictures showed the communal area of the Samaritans Youth Accommodation house in Central Maitland. In the first, the walls are a dull shade of fern-green and the windows are covered with dirt-brown curtains. In the second image the brown has been changed to a mixture of bright colours, where they pop out against white walls. The room looks lighter and more spacious.
The change was made possible with the help of Bunnings, Spotlight and Rotary.
“This was one of the things I really wanted to do when I got in here,” Ms Duff said.
“We just want to make it nice for them.”
‘Them’ is the four young people who occupy the house at one time, who have knocked on Samaritans’ door because they have nowhere else to go. There, they have up to three weeks accommodation and can receive assistance getting set up with Centrelink, or accessing health and education services.
The house is always full.
“The demand is full-on,” Ms Duff said.
“We’ve got people ringing almost every day, but we don’t want to send them anyway, we say there’s no closed door, so we contact other services or try to set them up in motels.
“It’s hard when you can’t help everyone though, and you do feel bad because it’s the luck of the draw sometimes and they’re usually at rock bottom when they make that call.”
The demand Ms Duff speaks of is backed up by data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which reported that 44,000 young people were homeless on census night in 2011, while a report commissioned by the Centre for Social Impact, Cost of Youth Homelessness in Australia Survey, found that in 2014-15 almost 42,000 people aged 15 to 24 accessed homelessness services across the nation.
Homelessness doesn’t just refer to those sleeping on the streets though. It takes into account people staying in temporary accommodation, boarding houses and couchsurfing with friends and family.
This is something Meg O’Hara and Maddy Clare Lardner from Reamus Youth Theatre have learned recently.
The pair are part of small group who will perform a self-devised piece about the issue this Friday night at the Emerald Charity Ball, where the proceeds will be donated to Samaritans.
They have written short scenes, monologues and slam poetry which will complement each other, all focusing on breaking stereotypes.
“Homelessness doesn’t mean you’re a bad person,” Ms Lardner said.
“It’s not something to be ashamed of.”
The Centre for Social Impact report, which was released in April this year, also examined the reasons young people become homeless, and found that family violence was a major driver behind homelessness for 90 per cent of the respondents. Almost half of those surveyed said that the violence escalated to a point where police became involved.
“Even though you might be in this situation, you’re still a good person,” Ms O’Hara said, explaining the focus of her piece.
“It’s focused on their aspirations.
“It looks at the whole ‘I’m all these others things, but people still want to paint me in a negative light’.”
Ms O’Hara was involved in last year’s ball, which benefited headspace, and she jumped at the opportunity to become involved again.
“We’re all young, we can relate,” she said.
“We all know someone who has been homeless.”
The pieces were inspired by interviews the Reamus members conducted at Samaritans, but they didn’t go the way the group expected.
“They were all very positive,” Ms O’Hara said.
“I found those positive attitudes really inspiring.”
However much money the night raises, Ms Duff said it will be put to good use, funding more renovations to the house and programs for the young people staying there.
“Any donation will make a difference to these young people,” she said.
“A little bit goes a long way here.”
To make a donation, visit samaritans.org.au.