EDITORIAL: First hand experience of youth homelessness

IN THE words of Michael Jackson, "it doesn't matter if you are black or white", particularly when it comes to the issue of homeless teenagers.

At the end of the day, regardless of how or why a teenager is no longer welcome in the family home, it is one of the scariest experiences to go through.

Today, we ran a front page story about an organisation in the community trying to get the funds to build a youth centre to assist the 80-odd homeless indigenous youths in the region. Read that story here: Elders call for funds to help 'save 80 homeless kids'

The comments online drove like a knife in my heart. Many seem unable to understand the issue is about the youth, not their skin colour, not the parents. The youth. And helping them move forward in life with a little less stress that comes with being kicked out of home at a young age, which psychological studies have shown increases the risk of drug and alcohol abuse and other destructive behaviours.

As someone who has experienced teenage homelessness first hand, let me give those that don't understand a bit of an insight.

First, there is the abandonment of you by your family - including the extended family who haven't intervened or offered a couch to crash on.

Then there is the 'weight of the world' issue that comes crashing down on your shoulders when it happens.

The questions that run through your head include - 'why doesn't anyone love me?', 'where will I sleep tonight?', 'how am I going to be able to afford to buy food?' and 'if I am such a loser (as my parents kept telling me), that I get kicked out of home, how am I going to keep a job to pay for rent and food?'.

These are only just the beginning.

Not all parents are drunken, physically abuse, neglectful or druggies. Some parents just can't cope trying to raise a teenager.

Not all teenagers that are kicked out of home are taking drugs, having sex, or other reckless behaviour.

It could be a case of a teenager having an authoritarian parent or parents and teenager has, as teenagers do, question why they are being punished, with no logical explanation forthcoming from the parent. Maybe no explanation at all.

Next thing you know, you no longer have a home to call your own.

If you think the world is a scary place as a five-year-old, try being a 16-year-old who has just been told by their mother, or father, or both, that they are no longer welcome in their house.

At this age, you might be lucky enough to know how to cook, do the grocery shopping, clothes washing, ironing, vacuuming, etc. But then again, maybe you don't know how to do any of these things as they had been done for you.

You might know about Centrelink and that you can get a fortnightly pay to help cover the cost of rent, food, etc. But then again, maybe you don't as your parent/s worked full time and did not need Centrelink assistance.

The stress of thinking about all those questions, all those issues, leads to depression, anxiety and migraine headaches (for some).

You've already been made feel useless, dumb, and a loser by your parents. That feeling only gets worse when you are couch surfing or living on the streets.

Some don't know how to get from being on the streets to having a roof over their head permanently and having three meals a day.

After weeks or months of going from shelter to shelter, couch to couch, sleeping under a tree in the park, in a drain, or anywhere they can access without having to worry about the rain or being attacked in their sleep; some turn to crime. They might steal food to eat, alcohol to drink and escape the depression of being alone and scared, or electrical goods to hock to pay for both, or drugs (better rate of escapism).
Others, like myself, are lucky.

My luck was in the form of a best friend (Kristy) how argued with her parents to let me stay in their spare room until I could work life out. My best friend's mother worked at a school and got advice on how to help me - get me on Centrelink, get me into shared accommodation, while still being a support system.

And my second bout of luck came after I hesitantly wrote a letter to my father's family, informing them of where I was.

A week later, my father turned up on my friend's doorstep and spent three days trying to convince me to go live with him as he wouldn't abandon me or treat me the way my mother had.

For someone who was a homeless teen and is now working on their second university degree, lives on their own and pays their bills by themselves, I don't think I've turned out too bad.

If only the region's homeless teens had a Kristy and her mother within hands reach, we wouldn't need to beg the State and Federal Governments for funding for a youth centre to help these teens and those at risk of becoming homeless.



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