OFF THE STREETS

StreetWork helped get her life back on track

Monthly Chronicle - - Front Page - Jenny Bar­lass

It’s early morn­ing and Amy is hud­dled un­der an awning near Hornsby sta­tion, back against the rain, avoid­ing the looks from pass­ing com­muters dash­ing to work.

Hun­gry and chilled to the bone, the 14 year-old pon­ders her next move be­fore her day un­furls in the usual round of drink­ing, hunger, dodg­ing po­lice and hang­ing out with other dis­pos­sessed kids. It wasn’t what she wanted, but it’s how she found her­self.

It could be Red­fern, it could be Black­town. But this is Hornsby - and she is one of an es­ti­mated 50 home­less or “at risk” youth which hov­ers in the shad­ows of this area and in fact most coun­cil ar­eas across Syd­ney

To­day, with StreetWork’s in­ter­ven­tion and on­go­ing sup­port, Amy’s life has turned around and now a chilly morn­ing will find her head­ing to work in a warm cafe in the next sub­urb.

Hav­ing dug deep and found in­ner strength and courage, 18 year-old Amy has big­ger plans with a uni course next in her sights. This was an un­imag­in­able goal just a few years back.

Streetwork is a Chatswood-based not-for-profit op­er­at­ing since 1980 with branches in Manly, Wil­loughby and Hornsby and cov­er­ing a vast geographical swathe from the Har­bour Bridge to the cen­tral coast, as far west as Ry­dalmere and across to the North­ern Beaches.

Re­mark­ably the not-for-profit re­lies to­tally on do­na­tions to fund its $750,000 an­nual op­er­at­ing costs, with no re­cur­rent gov­ern­ment fund­ing. So it’s cry­ing out for more funds to help more kids.

It ef­fec­tively res­cues kids as young as 11 and up to 18, af­fected by men­tal health is­sues, sui­cide, crime, vi­o­lence, un­healthy re­la­tion­ships, so­cial iso­la­tion, home­less­ness, those no longer al­lowed in the school sys­tem, or im­pacted by drug and al­co­hol abuse.

Through its Kick­Start men­tor­ing pro­gram, it reaches out to 200 young peo­ple a week, sav­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies an es­ti­mated $8 mil­lion a year ac­cord­ing to a PwC re­port. A multi-pronged ap­proach in­volv­ing skill-build­ing, cri­sis man­age­ment and af­ter­care helps ease them back into their new life, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from their vol­un­tary Kick­Start Pro­gramme.

A team of eight youth work­ers per­form one-on-one men­tor­ing, pro­mo­tion of life skills, healthy eat­ing, bud­get­ing, shop­ping, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with ex­ter­nal agen­cies like FACS, Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice and Cen­tre­link as well as drug and al­co­hol coun­selling.

Some­times it’s as sim­ple as find­ing them a bed or some­thing to eat. Fre­quently though it’s about pro­vid­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion or some­one to talk to, to pre­vent a se­ri­ous or life-threat­en­ing out­come when self harm is a very real way.

“It’s about walk­ing next to them,” says Amy’s youth worker Lucy Dahill, “and the re­sults are re­duced re-of­fend­ing be­hav­iours and sub­stance mis­use and other risk tak­ing be­hav­iours, im­proved self es­teem, and so­cial and per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.”

At just 13 Amy had seen more of life than any teenager should have - bunking off school, drink­ing wine from “a goon sack”, hang­ing around Hornsby, get­ting into fights, shoplift­ing, be­ing banned from shop­ping cen­tres, get­ting ar­rested and spend­ing nights in a po­lice cell.

Hand in hand with this went feel­ings of worth­less­ness, rock bot­tom self es­teem, and a fear­less­ness be­yond her years born out of a need to sur­vive on the streets by day, re­turn­ing home late at night to wor­ried par­ents.

Not suited to con­ven­tional ed­u­ca­tion, she was in and out of var­i­ous Asquith and Hornsby schools. Fi­nally at her fourth school Amy plucked up the courage to call StreetWork. “I was dis­gusted with my­self,” says Amy. “I needed to change my life and get it back on track.”

With Lucy’s help, Amy went on a re­tail course at a TAFE. But fear and acute shy­ness still hin­dered her abil­ity to get work: “I was so scared - there was no way I could just walk into a shop and ask about work. StreetWork helped my con­fi­dence and helped with CV writ­ing and how to present my­self for in­ter­views.”

She landed a job at a Wahroonga cafe, sav­ing enough to buy a car and get her driver’s li­cense. Now she has her sights set on busi­ness or event man­age­ment at TAFE.

“StreetWork has made me a bet­ter per­son,” she says. “Now I can think things through - I can chat with my mum and we don’t fight any­more.

“My youth worker Lucy has been like a guide, a big sis­ter and a mum all rolled into one. I’m look­ing for­ward to my fu­ture.”

If you or a young per­son you know needs help, contact StreetWork on 9419 7559. www.streetwork.org.au. If you would like to do­nate, do so via the web­site or come to one of their events - the Christ­mas din­ner is on Novem­ber 11 - for more in­for­ma­tion contact StreetWork.

Amy (left) with her youth worker Lucy Dahill

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