Adam Bub | SX News | May 7, 2008
For more than 30 years, Caretakers Cottage has been providing support for gay and straight kids alike. Its founder, Laurie Matthews, spoke to Adam Bub. In Australia, nearly 22,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 are homeless, according to the 2006 ABS census. The demand for practical support and accommodation services is high, which the National Youth Commission's Australia's Homeless Youth report highlighted in April.
Caretakers Cottage is one not-for-profit organisation that addresses this need, having helped over 6,000 homeless young people get their lives back on track. "We initially opened to provide support to young people coming from the country to the city looking for employment, who were going to see the bright lights and come undone in one way or another," Laurie Matthews, Executive Officer of Caretakers, tells SX.
The son of a Uniting Church minister in Paddington, Matthews launched a non-religious youth drop-in service in 1972, and fostered links with fellow church tenants like the Metropolitan Community Church. In 1977, Matthews and his wife opened the Paddington-Woollahra Youth Service, later renamed Caretakers Cottage, and now located in Bondi.
Matthews operates three accommodation services in Sydney: Caretakers Cottage, a short-term accommodation crisis refuge for homeless children aged 12-17; Options Youth Housing, a medium-term accommodation service for youth aged 15-24 in Mascot; and Entity, an out-of-home-care accommodation service in Hurstville for children cared for by the New South Wales Minister for Community Services.
Caretakers assists young people dealing with issues such as family breakdowns, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness. "Many of the kids are lonely, isolated and spinning out of control," Matthews says. Caretakers ensures that the children are working or attending school or TAFE, while tending to legal and health issues and putting them onto government benefits, while liaising with their families.
"Our number one priority is to try and get kids back home with their families, and get their families providing the right kind of environment for them to grow and thrive," says Matthews. Matthews insists that the "hobo" stereotype of homeless kids is not accurate. "We have kids from all stratas of society," he says. "We have kids from Eastern suburbs private schools. The Dad can earn squillions of dollars, but that doesn't mean he and his family can hold together a successful family unit."
Matthews is grounded by his two daughters. "I get a reasonable adolescent perspective from my daughters and their friends. In this kind of work you can get a very jaundiced view of adolescents and the community, because what we see is not what the average adolescent is going through out there," says Matthews.
Matthews recognises that some homeless teens prefer an exclusively gay environment, but thinks it's important to make gay and lesbian teens comfortable everywhere. "Many gay teens get carried away with their sexuality, and jump out of the closet from the top shelf," he says. "Our team of gay, lesbian and heterosexual staff make them feel safe, but also help them learn to live in a mixed community."
Matthews is proud of Caretakers' contribution to thousands of teenagers' lives. "I'm happy to come to work because we have a real impact on people’s lives. Kids come back to us looking for guidance, support and direction. It means we’ve made a really good connection with that young person, and they want more of what we've got to offer," Matthews tells SX. Just recently, Matthews visited a former client in Darwin as she graduated with a psychology degree.
Matthews says that members of the public can help Caretakers either by joining the board or simply providing doonas and accessories for the kids. If you would like to help Caretakers, call Laurie Matthews on 02 9389 0999.
© SX News 2008