Three friendly faces have become a voice of reason for young people on the brink of homelessness.
Together, Tasha Palumbo, Austin Kenny and Caitlyn Woodcock make up Reconnect, an early intervention outreach service for young people with emerging mental health concerns whose housing is at risk.
The trio will go almost anywhere to meet with their clients, aged 12 to 18 years, who have voluntarily turned to them for support amid a myriad of challenges.
Tasha says anxiety is the most common issue across all ages.
Then there are the pressures wrought by volatile friendships and complex family trauma including relationship breakdowns and domestic violence, key drivers of youth homelessness.
“A lot of referrals come through where parental issues are impacting the young person’s mental health and day-to-day life,’’ says Tasha citing self-harm and drug and alcohol misuse.
“We see some quite severe anxiety; young people who haven’t left the house, or engaged in school, for months.
“In amongst all the chaos, we are the people who will listen to them and really hear what they are saying.’’
Reconnect works therapeutically with each client for up to six months. Interventions include counselling, family work and referral to other services.
Support can be as basic as helping a client to structure their homework up to finding safe and supported accommodation for a young person who is couch surfing.
Austin highlights the team’s flexible and creative approach in building a rapport with clients.
“We will meet them at school, at home, in a park. Sometimes we put some music on and just play basketball; you can get to know a person better by changing up the environment.
“It’s easy for us to say we are supporting these kids, but really we are giving them the tools to help themselves before things get worse. The self-worth comes into the self-determination.
“Most of them have got long-term goals but it’s achieving the short-term things that they get stuck on. They might want to go into a trade but that means sticking with school.’’
Caitlyn says education plays an important role in keeping young people safe: “If a young person stops attending school, there might be no other way of seeing if they’re getting fed or what’s happening for them day to day.
“It’s important that they have that connection to education so they know there are other people looking out for them.
“There is so much potential for these young people, they just need some help to find the right direction amongst the chaos around them.
“No matter how bad the circumstances, they can still make choices.’’
*It’s Homelessness Week (August 2-8), a national campaign to raise awareness of the experiences and challenges faced by people living homeless. This year the theme is Everybody Needs a Home. Even before COVID-19, almost 120,000 people had no place to call home each night. Today, many more Australians are currently unemployed, facing rental stress and the possibility of losing their home. This week we will be highlighting some of the ways Centacare supports young people to stay safe and find long-term housing solutions.