Sowing the Seeds for a Flourishing Future

On any given night 28,000 young people go to sleep in Australia without a safe and secure place to call home.

Whether in overcrowded dwellings, couch surfing, rough sleeping or living in supported accommodation, there’s an alarming number of young people who are faced with the harsh reality of homelessness.

Today on Youth Homelessness Matters Day, we are sharing the story of Andrew, a young man we assisted through our Youth Refuge in Bowral.

No two stories of youth homelessness are the same, but by hearing their experiences we can take action to ensure young people can enjoy safe, happy and healthy lives.

Andrew is intelligent, opinionated and ambitious. And he was almost homeless.

Thanks to Vinnies and our generous supporters, Andrew has never had to spend a night on the street. He was only 14 years old when his parents kicked him out and he found himself at our Bowral Youth Refuge.

“I love my mum and my dad dearly and they do love me too. The problem is I have a very different personality and way of thinking,” Andrew explained.

He was seven or eight years old when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that can involve difficulties in communicating and socialising. Despite his diagnosis, his primary school failed to offer him specialised support, and he slipped from being top of his class to hiding away in a corner, afraid to draw attention to himself.

“With my autism, you know, Asperger’s, some things I can do really well, other things I don’t cope with very well. It’s not so much the work that I found difficult; it’s everything surrounding it,” Andrew said.

Life was tough at school, and home provided little respite. Initially Andrew’s mum did all she could to support her son, even home-schooling him for six months before finding him a place in a smaller school for kids with behavioural needs. Yet as time went on, his living situation deteriorated to the point that his dad drove him to our Bowral Youth Refuge with nothing more than a small bag.

“All of a sudden being thrust into a completely unknown environment was very, very surreal,” he said.

But his fears were quickly allayed as our caring staff members took him in.

“I was surprised at how nice and how understanding they were, and it didn’t take very long at all for me to start to kind of go along with the routine of the refuge,” Andrew said.

He met experienced Vinnies caseworkers like Will Fernandez, who immediately set out on a plan to keep Andrew safe in the short term, and set him up for a better future going forward.

“The initial thing is to keep young people safe and make sure they have a roof over their heads, so when they come to the refuge that’s our first priority,” Will explained.

“Once we’ve let them settle in, then we start looking at the ten domains of the case plan: health, education, employment and things like that. If they’re in school then we advocate on their behalf and put things in place so they can continue to go to school, or if they want to go to TAFE we look at enrolling them, supporting them through, and also trying to get the funds to pay for that.”

Andrew’s case plan involved keeping him in school and working to repair his relationship with his family. After a few months at the refuge, things improved between Andrew and his mum and dad, and he was able to move home. Yet sadly it didn’t last; the family soon found that they could only live together for a few months at a time before the relationship would sour again. Altogether, Andrew has spent two out of the past five years living at the Bowral Youth Refuge.

About a year ago, we found him a place in a small set of units – a traditional accommodation facility designed to help young people move from crisis accommodation towards a stable home of their own. It’s been exactly the ‘hand up’ that Andrew needed to take hold of his future with both hands.

“Being at the units I am probably the healthiest and happiest I have been since all the time I remember. I really, really enjoy being independent, and the freedom that entails,” he said.

Now 19 years old, Andrew is completing TAFE courses in Year-12-equivalent maths and English, a requirement to fulfil his dream of joining the army. Despite the difficulties with his parents, he’s growing closer to his younger siblings, who look up to him as their big brother. If all goes to plan, Andrew will be living in private rental accommodation and working in the army within a year.

“I’ve needed a lot of assistance, but if I hadn’t had the help of Vinnies then I don’t know what would have happened. My relationship would be so much worse with my parents now if I hadn’t had these guys essentially come in and help us out. And in terms of studying, education and just building up living skills, finding accommodation, all that stuff, these guys have had a massive input and effort,” he said.

“They’ve just helped me so much.”

Read more great stories like Andrew’s in the latest edition of Impact.