As an outreach worker at Open Family Australia, I have seen people at their lowest and in shocking circumstances. Circumstances you wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But perhaps the most heart breaking aspect of my job is when I met young people who are forced to live on the streets.
Being homeless feels scary, depressing and humiliating. On the one hand you've hit bottom and there's nowhere to go but up, but finding a way out of the situation seems impossible. Where do you go? Where do you turn?
Last year I met a young girl called Caitlin. Caitlin was only fifteen when she felt that her mother’s new boyfriend didn’t appreciate her being at home. Caitlin took to staying at friends, but her welcome there quickly wore out.
Imagine being a 15 year-old girl and having nowhere to live.
When I first was called to help Caitlin, she was staying in an abandoned apartment. There was no electricity, hot water, and she was sleeping on a mattress that was black with dirt and stains. Caitlin hadn’t showered in days or had a proper meal. Amazingly, Caitlin was still trying to attend school and keep up appearances.
I was able to get Caitlin a meal, a warm shower and some clean clothes. She was so grateful and started to tell me her life story and what had led to her becoming homeless. What I learnt in those hours was the heartbreak of a girl that felt abandoned by her mother and family.
Caitlin then embarked on one of the most desperate journeys. Over the next few months, I watched Caitlin slip further into danger. Caitlin had found a house to share, but there were some older males squatting in the house, who had serious problems of their own. The environment was not at all suitable for a young teenage girl.
Caitlin began to believe that her life was invisible to the rest of the world.
It is unimaginable to think that homelessness happens in a place such as Australia. But trust me it does. I contacted all of my available sources to find a suitable place for Caitlin to live. Going home was out of the question, rooming houses were not suitable for a young girl, and foster care was difficult as Caitlin was about to turn 16.
With time and patience, I managed to work out a relationship with Caitlin’s grandmother, who agreed that she could live with her on the basis that I continue to help guide Caitlin with her choices in life.
This year Caitlin started a TAFE course and made new friends there. I’m hopeful for Caitlin’s future. She wants to be a childcare worker and I’ve every confidence that she will achieve her dream.
Christine, Street Outreach Worker
* Names and locations may be changed to protect the identities of the young people.