Couple Run a Refuge for Teenagers
Nancy Berryman | The Sun Herald | 29 July, 1979
The Matthews family has found one way of coping with unemployment and helping the problem children. Laurie, 23, and his wife, Sara, 19, run a teenage refuge for little and often no pay.
It's a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job, and they also work part-time to earn a combined weekly income of $90. They know what it's like to be on the dole and to be in jobs they don't enjoy. Now they prefer to work for their own satisfaction.
Laurie, son of the Rev Rex Matthews, minister of Paddington's Eastside Parish Church, left Newington College in 1974. His HSC pass wasn't good enough to enable him to do a social work course, his first choice, so he started a mechanical apprenticeship. He ended up on the dole and has since been on the dole from time to time. But he says it has been a valuable experience in relating to teenagers who pass through the refuge - as was the voluntary work he did for an after-school activity centre and a teenage drop-in-centre.
Sara is happy cooking for 16 people every day - family and children from the refuge. The money to run the refuge comes mainly from the parish's Village Church centre. The Youth and Community Services Department granted $2,000.
Laurie and Sara feel that a similar system on a community scale would help other young people who can't find jobs.
© 1979 Sun Herald
Originally published in the Sun Herald on 29 July, 1979.
Reverend Rex Battles On
Nancy Berryman | The Sydney Morning Herald | 02 Nov, 1980
The Rev Rex Matthews isn’t one to back away from controversy. He handed over his handsome parsonage, one of Paddington’s grandest houses, to a group of homeless children.
Backed by his parish he allows the Greek Orthodox Church and gay church to use his Uniting Church. The church ground becomes a village bazaar on Saturdays.
And he has handed over the caretaker’s cottage to a group of old people in an experiment run in conjunction with the city council to help old people remain independent in the community. According to Mr Matthews the Church should be a part of, rather than apart from, the community.
But some people think he has gone too far. Unfortunately they include members of the hierarchy of his own Uniting Church. What upset those members of the synod was his championing of the gay church. They accepted allowing the gay church to share a church although they still don’t accept homosexuality. But, despite a close vote, they drew the line at actually giving them a church of their own.
It’s not the first time Rex Matthews has found himself in the firing line. Over his five years in Paddington there have been complaints about the use of the church ground for a bazaar. His critics said he had let the money changers back into the temple. Others have objected to the kind of people it attracts. The Australian Marihuana Party has a stall there. The Federal member, Mr Bob Ellicott, Minister for Home Affairs, was also a regular, at least until 18 months ago. His neat piles of government publications sat side by side with the more exotic fare on sale.
Paddington Healing Centre, with its faith healers, acupuncture, natural childbirth exponents and herbal remedies – another enterprise on Uniting Church property in the parish – has raised its share of eyebrows too. None of them is the kind of activity normally associated with the Church. And Mr Matthews doesn’t quite fit the stereotype either.
He’s a bushy-haired former journalist, who started working life as an electrical fitter. He is married with four children, Laurie, 24, Peter, 22, Colin, 19 and Rhonda, 16, all of whom help in their father’s work although none of them is a churchgoer.
How he came to become a champion of the gays was an accident of history, Rex says. Many of the initiatives in the area were started by his predecessor, Russell Davies, he says. Rev Davies allowed the gay church, or the Metropolitan Community Church as it is known, to use the Village Church premises one night a week. “I just picked up his philosophy and ran with it,” Mr Matthews said. To many members of the Uniting Church Synod he has run too far too fast. They believe the Church should catch up with community attitudes, not set the pace. But to Mr Matthews it’s a matter of justice.
“I’m not concerned to label people right or wrong,” he says. “People who labour honestly with the Gospel can make up their own minds.” He looks on the positive side of the dispute. The Church has now agreed to discuss homosexuality and Christianity.
© 1980 Sydney Morning Herald
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 November, 1980.
Drugs: Are Kids Waking Up?
Claire Tedeschi | The Sydney Morning Herald | 28 June, 1981
Drug use and experimentation has dropped sharply among school-age children, according to a study released this week by the NSW Drug and Alcohol Authority. The survey, completed in 1980, showed that teenagers were less involved in drugs – both in dosages and the number of different types used – than they were a few years ago. About 2,000 students aged between 12 and 18 were selected at random from 31 private and public schools around NSW to take part in the study.
Figures quoted in the summary apply only to Year 10 students’ answers and the results indicate a marked improvement from the last inquiry in 1977. Fewer children are smoking and drinking regularly. Cannabis, narcotics and stimulants are also less widely used but analgesics, sedatives and hallucinogens are becoming slightly more popular.
But reaction to the report was rather sceptical, particularly among welfare workers… and the young people themselves.
John Howard, a senior counsellor for Youth and Community Services, is involved with a large number of drug rehabilitation clinics. He sees the problem of drug abuse as very grave. “It makes sense that young people take drugs,” he said. “They are abused by society and so they continue to abuse themselves further. An enormous number of kids are pensioners by the age of 16. They seem to have no future and try to dull the pain by taking drugs.
“Unemployed 15-year-olds are not entitled to the dole unless they’ve worked for a period of time. If they’ve been kicked out of home, which is not so unusual, they wind up on the streets. And there’s talk now of prohibiting people from receiving the dole in the same way.” John has noticed, however, that there are fewer young, hard drug addicts. Children have learned that drugs like heroin are not worth the risk.
Rocket (a nickname) is 19 and has lived in refuges since he was about 13. For most of that time he was hooked on acid. He gave up hard drugs about 18 months ago because he finally understood that nothing was working out while he was a drug addict.
When Rocket was three, he and his sister were sent to foster parents because their mother was psychologically unstable. After four years, the foster parents’ marriage broke up and Rocket became a ward of the state. At 13 he was sent to a welfare home, categorised as an uncontrollable child.
Since he has left school, he has had more than 20 jobs and lived in a dozen of different homes. “I took drugs for something to do. When you’re on an acid trip you see so many colours, nothing seems to matter anymore. You may be late for work but you don’t care. You can give it up if you want to, like I did, but nobody else can make you. I did it because I wanted to get a proper job. I’d like to be a welfare worker her one day.”
Laurie Matthews is a committee member at Caretaker’s Cottage in Paddington, the refuge where Rocket lives. He says the Drug and Alcohol Authority’s study is encouraging but sees it only as a “tiny step in the right direction.”
“As far as we’re concerned as many kids as ever are on drugs. They’re taking mandies (Mandrax), barbiturates and Valium as well as other things. Many of them are prostitutes and the only way they can handle that is by being out of it.
“Pills are cheaper than alcohol and street kids don’t have any money. Most aren’t even on the dole. They take drugs because they don’t know how to take care of themselves, to cook and buy food. That’s what we try to teach them here but I can’t see the problem getting any better in the near future.
“Certainly the refuges don’t present any wide perspective on young people. But they do act as a documentation of the core of drug abuse and other social problems affecting the young. They cannot be judged as isolated cases.”
Julie (not her real name) is an intelligent 17-year-old with a stable family background. She attended a private Catholic school until the year before last when she left so she would have more time to study music. Julie was amazed when she heard about the school age drug survey on the radio. “When I was at school at least a quarter of the form were into drugs. Almost everyone drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes and lots took dope but not regularly. Now I think all my friends use some kind of drugs. Most have even tried the hard ones.”
Jacques Bierling, a teacher at a public secondary school, says he’s noticed a definite turn away from most drugs in the last few years. But alcohol appears to be gaining popularity. “It’s no status symbol any more to smoke dope or pop pills. I think that’s because more aggressive, lewd behaviour is acceptable by the peer group. Alcohol certainly has more of that tough image attached to it.” Mr Bierling doesn’t think that parents, on the whole, understand the problems faced by their children. “I must say, though, that my students’ parents are definitely showing more interest in the children’s education than they did a few years ago,” he said. And they certainly know about drugs even if they don’t discuss them with the children.
Drugs have lost their mysterious allure because of adverse publicity. But Mr Bierling still feels there is peer group pressure to a certain extent to try out drugs. “I don’t really know what can be done about the drug problem. In my opinion family background and the relationship with parents doesn’t make all that much difference. It’s more the superficial viewing habits of the children – TV, film and advertisements – which dictate the attractive images. Aggression is what they’re after now and they find that more in alcohol than in other drugs.”
© The Sydney Morning Herald, 1981
Deirdre Macken | The Age | 14 May, 1984
Traditionally, those who embark on the share accommodation rounds are young, fresh out of home, usually students, and so naive/easy-going/desperate that they will put up with a box room, bathroom duties and early morning arguments on Marxism.
However, the share accommodation market, especially in inner-city Sydney, has expanded and diversified enough for a community group to set up a computer-based service. According to the operator of Phone-A-Home in the Paddington Community Centre, Laurie Matthews, only a computer can cope with the diversity of people seeking flatmates.
“Because of a number of factors, such as the closure of boarding houses, the high rents and lack of housing in the inner city and changes in social groupings, the market for sharing homes has broadened immensely. People are much more discerning about who they share with and insist on things like non-smokers, vegetarians, the same musical interests, the same sort of careers and people of the same interests, such as gays.”
Among the new breed of flatmates are single parents wanting to share with other single parents for a supporting household, sharing child-minding and tantrums, divorced people, gay households and professional households. A growing area is elderly people who are taking in flatmates to help with costs, loneliness and to stave off a move into nursing homes, and younger people, who are willing to do housework in return for free board.
“We used to try and match people with homes ourselves but then we thought, if you can use computers to find a husband or wife, why not use it to match flatmates”, says Mr Matthews.
The Warringah Shire Council, which encompasses the northern Sydney beaches area, known as the Peninsula, has a bizarre problem with graffiti along the main road from the city to Palm Beach. Evidently the inhabitants of the Peninsula (to stereotype them, crafty people, young families, aging hippies, hedonists and surfers) have decided to use a stretch of the main of the main road as a community notice board. It began last year when a few of the more friendly people on the insular Peninsula decided to announce friends’ birthdays.
Lately however, the stretch of road has come to resemble a billboard boulevard with giant murals, hand painted posters, blown-up photos and dozens of cardboard signs celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, parties and couplings. The Shire Clerk, Mr L. G. Riordan is unimpressed. “It may be a friendly sort of thing but these spasmodic outbreaks are going to stop. Our rangers are pulling down the signs when they see them and keeping an eye out for the graffitists.”
© The Age, 16 May 1984
Call for Refuge Aid
Ross Coulthart | The Sydney Morning Herald | 20 February, 1986
A lobbying campaign by NSW youth services groups for more Federal and State funding, launched in Paddington yesterday, could mean extra funding for Eastern Suburbs youth refuges. A representative for the Youth Accommodation Association for NSW, Mr David Annis Brown, pinpointed two youth refuges in the Eastern Suburbs as likely to benefit from their plea for additional funding. They were the Bondi Youth Accommodation Service at Bondi Junction, which ran several houses for youths, and the Caretakers Cottage in Oxford Street, Paddington.
Several other centres in the East were also likely to benefit from the lobbying campaign, which began this week at Paddington’s Come In Youth Centre in Oxford Street. The campaign is sponsored by the Developmental Youth Services Association, and Youth Accommodation Association of NSW.
One spokesman for an Eastern Suburbs youth refuge said eastern centres were not worse off than anywhere else in the State, but they highlighted many of the problems experienced by all the centres: overcrowding, too few staff and inadequate money for food and other resources.
The campaign, called Youth Services – Whose Priority?, will ask the Premier, Mr Wran, to receive a delegation of youth-accommodation services officers asking for an increase of 125 per cent in the level of State and Federal Government funding. This would mean an increase from $7.9 million annually to $17 million.
© The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February, 1986.
For some, it's the violent season
Mary Bosen | The Sydney Morning Herald | 24 December, 1987
Sandra and Greg would rather spend Christmas in a youth refuge than with their families, because it is safer. Fifteen-year-old Greg is looking forward to spending Christmas Day at Stanmore's Young People's Refuge to see what other people do at Christmas, and to avoid his violent stepfather. Greg's curiosity is typical of many refuge residents, for whom Christmas has always meant violence.
According to Mr Tim Luxon, a youth worker at Taldumande Youth Refuge, Christmas brings back bad memories for many in the refuge. "Many of our residents are from abused backgrounds and Christmas is a time where a lot of physical and sexual abuse happens," he said. He is concerned about the effects of family visits of some residents. "Some of them will come back upset that their family isn't as happy as they would like," he said. "Some may even come back a little bloodied."
For those who remain at the refuge a Christmas dinner will be provided. Residents from two other refuges have been invited to join in. The local Rotary Club and other charities have given Christmas hampers.
The project officer of the Youth Accommodation Association, Mr David Annis-Brown, said Christmas was a lonely time for many young people in refuges and for the 10,000 who lived on the streets in NSW.
At the Caretakers Cottage Refuge in Paddington the decorations have gone up. But according to youth worker Ms Helen Mann, Christmas focuses on what residents do not have. “These kids have been ignored or abused most of their lives,” Ms Mann said. “For them Christmas is just one more thing that has gone wrong. We will try to make this Christmas as normal as possible but I really ask myself why they end up here in the first place.”
© The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December, 1987
Paddington Youth Refuge Faces the Threat of Eviction
Megan Howe | Sydney Morning Herald | 10 November 1988
"When they come here it's a roof over their heads, but in a very short time it becomes their world. They refer to it as home," says Sue Leahy, a youth worker at the Caretakers Cottage, Paddington. The Cottage, a youth crisis refuge, is home for eight people between the ages of 14 and 18.
The Cottage is facing eviction from its Paddington premises, and the people working there are searching desperately for a new house in which to set up the refuge. For most of the young people at the Cottage, moving house is a way of life; so the threat of eviction is not of great concern to them.
For the people who work there, however, it is a major concern. Sue says the Uniting Church, which owns the house, has been trying to have the refuge removed for a couple of years.
Although the Department of Housing has given the Cottage $400,000 to spend on a new house, Sue says finding suitable premises is not easy. The new site must be located east of Central, because the refuge is funded for that area, and a six-bedroom or seven-bedroom house in that area is almost impossible to find.
"It makes it quite difficult to put energy into this house and there's a lot that needs to be done," Sue says. "It is a difficult atmosphere to work in."
Caretakers Cottage was set up 12 years ago by one of the current youth workers, Laurie Matthews. His father was minister of the parish at the time, and his family was living in the main house, or rectory, where the Cottage is now set up. The refuge began as a place for young people coming from the country to stay while they found work and accommodation. They did not stay in the main house, but in a smaller cottage for the caretaker at the back, hence the refuge's present name.
Laurie received no funding, so ran the refuge out of his own pocket. After two years, it became one of the first youth refuges in NSW to get funding. The Cottage then moved into the main house. Today, it is government-funded and administered by the Department of Family and Community Services.
Defined as a "crisis" or "short-term" centre, the refuge houses teenagers for a maximum of three months. Homeless young people are referred to the Cottage by organisations such as Family and Community Services and the Young Offenders Support Team. There are also many self-referrals.
Streetwise kids know the Cottage. They use it as a support, Sue says. There is a drop-in centre around the corner from the Cottage. The refuge caters for a lot of "refuge-hoppers" who move from one refuge to another.
She says it is important to consider what effect living in the refuge will have on a young person in the refuge environment. At the moment, the workers are trying their hardest to find long-term accommodation for a young girl staying at the refuge. "She is extremely susceptible to her environment and is getting caught up in the whole scene."
The two males and six females at the Cottage must adhere to a strict set of rules. Drugs, violence, weapons, and sex are forbidden on the premises. Those under 16 years have to be home by 9pm on weeknights and 10pm on weekends. For residents over 16, the curfew times are 10.30pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends. If they break these curfews, they are grounded.
Domestic chores such as cleaning, cooking and washing are done on a roster basis. There is no TV until after dinner on weekdays, and visitors are welcome only at weekends. The refuge is closed between 9am and 1pm during the week, and those residents who are not at school are expected to look for work and accommodation during this time.
"The rules suck," according to Kim, 14, who has been at the Cottage for a month. She moved there when the Kingsford refuge she was staying in closed down temporarily. Kim says the curfew times "stink", but that the sharing of the chores is fair. Despite her whinging, she laughs a lot and seems quite at home in the refuge. She does not know where she will go when her time is up. "Maybe to another refuge."
Peter, 18, believes the rules are "reasonable". He has been living at the Cottage for a little more than three months and is looking for a place of his own. "I'd rather have my own place than stay here," he says.
Sue says most of the residents have had a breakdown in their family. "Refuges are not nice places. They wouldn't choose this - home has to be worse." The main aim of the refuge is to find suitable secure housing for the residents, and Sue says that the first option they look at is always a return to their own family. "Generally, they come from parents who can't parent them," she says.
Between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the girls who end up at the refuge have been sexually abused, and the males have also suffered a lot of physical abuse. Very few of them end up going back to their families, according to Sue.
Daniel has been living there for about a month. He was "kicked out (of the refuge) for sleeping in" after only two weeks, but was allowed to return. He says he would like to stay at the Cottage, but may be going home to his parents in December. Otherwise, his welfare officer will have to find him another refuge. At the age of 14, Daniel is experienced in the routines of refuge life. He stayed at Arrunga Youth Centre for about four months, then went to Stanmore Refuge and Taldumandie Youth Refuge in North Sydney, as well as spending some time "living on the streets" before arriving at Caretakers Cottage.
Does he find it difficult to fit in when he moves around so often? "You get used to it after a while, even though you don't know anyone," he replies.
Lisa, 16, says she will stay at Caretakers for as long as she can. "It's the only refuge I'm allowed in. Everybody thinks I'm supposed to be in rehab -plus, they help me here."
Michelle, 18, when asked how long she had been at the Cottage, says: "Too long." She is waiting to get into long-term housing, but says it is "good" living with seven other teenagers. "You don't feel left out or anything".
According to Sue, many kids return to the refuge for support after their three-month stay is over, even if they have been thrown out in the street. "That encourages us. It gives us a sense of actually achieving something."
"We get something going for them so that when they leave, something has improved."
The final house rule of Caretakers Cottage states: "This is a one-stay-only refuge, so make the most of it."
© 1988 Sydney Morning Herald
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 10 November, 1988.