Teens who fall into homelessness early are likely to spend up to a decade accessing supports. Through our Outer North Youth Homelessness Services, Centacare is building young people’s resilience, life skills and independence.

Tina Breen does not forget names easily, nor the stories behind them.

For the past two years she has worked at Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homeless Services (ONYHS) supporting the face of a growing problem.

As limited exit plans stifle young people’s ability to move out of homelessness, Tina is reacquainted with the same characters time and again.

She is touched by their strength, resilience and resourcefulness.

Amidst the young people’s challenges, Tina (pictured) finds reasons to hope for the best. 

“Seeing their capacity to influence positive long-term change is invigorating,’’ she says.

“Their drive to succeed despite the adversity they’ve experienced, you can only be inspired by that.’’

It’s a long road ahead for adolescents who fall into homelessness early.

A 15-year-old entering the sector today is likely to seek support for a decade, Tina says.

“There are minimal options for what seems to be maximum demand.

“Even if we move them into independent living at 18, they are only given 18 months of stable transitional accommodation and then you’re still looking at another five years before they are able to be considered fully independent. That’s a long time.

“We’re seeing more repeat customers than we ever have before. People we met for the first time at 15, 16 years reappear at 17 and 20, so they might be through our service three times in five years. The pathways are not there so they’re staying longer.

“It shows us they are not successfully exiting into good quality, independent living and are reverting back to not coping and managing on their own.’’

This trend has prompted greater sector collaboration between service providers, with a focus on prevention and resolving conflict between young people and parents or caregivers.

However, when family reunification is not possible, Tina says gaps in services are exposed because resources do not meet demand.

This is coupled with a lack of affordable housing and the loss of stepping stones, such as direct lease programs.

“Most of the support services cut off at age 25, but we know that for young people, especially with a trauma history, just providing them with a house is not going to solve their issues.

“We need to address those other underlying factors or they’re not likely to manage a private tenancy.’’

Case study

Through the ONYHS, Centacare provides accommodation, case management, early intervention and outreach, post-crisis and wait-list support to young people aged 15 to 25 years who are homeless or at risk of homelessness across the Playford, Gawler and Barossa council areas.

In 2015/16, the service supported  549 people – 348 females and 201 males. Many clients present with unresolved crisis, including childhood trauma and family breakdown.

Centacare has access to 36 transitional housing properties in the area from Elizabeth to Nurioopta with young people given 18-month tenures to stabilise their circumstances and move towards private accommodation.

The following example illustrates the types of support Centacare provides to young people living out of home.

African woman, aged 20.

Sought support from Centacare whilst pregnant and experiencing family conflict. ONYHS provided her with an 18-month tenancy and case management. In addition, she engaged with Strong Start in the North, a program targeted at first-time mothers who are experiencing numerous complex issues. By working with them to develop their skills to cope with challenges, connect them to resources, and increase their parenting capacity, Strong Start seeks to support the development of children who may otherwise be at risk of adverse outcomes.

The young woman quickly flourished, improved her language skills and moved into community housing. With Centacare’s support, she gained the confidence and independence to manage utilities, liaise with service providers and attend appointments on her own. In addition, she enrolled in education and facilitated childcare for her baby in order to move towards employment.