Taste of Coogee Festival 2016

This past weekend, on Saturday & Sunday, 3-4 September, Caretakers Cottage joined the annual Taste of Coogee Festival. The Caretakers stall featured, food & entertainment, information on the organisation's support services, lots and lots of balloons and plenty of happy faces.

We are very grateful to our hardy volunteers and who filled 1,000 balloons and we are pleased that we were able to share our family with so many local residents.

A big thank you to Taste of Coogee Festival, Our Big Kitchen, Little Jack Horner and our keen team from Caretakers.

Funding Boost Supports Local Teens at Caretakers Cottage

Media Release | GabrielleUpton.com.au | Friday, 2 September, 2016

Local young teens who are homeless or at risk of homelessness will receive 24/7 help and crisis care under new $248,000 funding for Caretakers Cottage in Bondi.

Vaucluse MP Gabrielle Upton and Coogee MP Bruce Notley-Smith welcomed the roll out of the state-wide Homeless Youth Assistance Program (HYAP), a $32 million NSW Government homelessness initiative.

“For those of us with secure families it is nearly beyond comprehension that there are young teens who find themselves homeless and needing help, but each year about 75 are coming to homelessness services in our local area for help,” Ms Upton said.

“While local services will deal with the immediate crisis they also have resources in place to help young teens return safely to their family, and if that can’t be done, to assist them into more appropriate long term care and accommodation.

“These young people are going to get the help they need, whether it’s education, training or health services, so that they have a future of hope,” Mr Notley-Smith said.

Caretakers Cottage CEO, Laurie Matthews said this Homeless Youth Assistance Program funding will enable Caretakers Cottage to provide the appropriate level of care to young people under 16.

“Our overall bed numbers have increased from 10 to 14 with 4 dedicated specifically to under 16’s as well as care from a new caseworker with family support skills who has been engaged to provide support to families who are struggling and are keen to keep their families intact,” Mr Matthews said.

“Our residential response is projected as respite for parents and young people with a view to using the time spent in the refuge to develop a plan to have the best opportunity to facilitate family restoration.

Mr Matthews said this funding now completes the Going Home Staying Home homelessness response so that the Eastern Suburbs have a comprehensive model of early intervention, crisis accommodation, medium term accommodation for those young people who cannot return to family care.

Minister for Family and Community Services Brad Hazzard said the program was funded for four years and it assist up to 1300 young teens aged 12-15 who each year turn to homelessness services in NSW.

Wolper Hospital Supports Art Therapy for Homeless Kids

Dovi Seldowitz | The Sydney Jewish Report | Friday, August 5, 2016

The Wolper Jewish Hospital Health Foundation has announced its support of local homeless kids. The foundation has granted funding to the Colour My Voice art therapy program at the Caretakers Cottage Youth Refuge in Bondi. The refuge helps homeless youth aged 13 to 17 who have become homeless due to domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and family relationship breakdowns.

The program allows kids to express their feelings, emotions and everyday challenges and gives them practical strategies and develop healthy coping skills for their own healing processes, while empowering them to make life enhancing choices moving forward.

The program is expected to help 150 homeless youth this year. Both group sessions as well as individual sessions will take place, and an art exhibition is planned for later this year.

The Wolper Jewish Hospital Health Foundation was established in 2014 with the aim of funding health and wellbeing initiatives, programs and services that will deliver clear benefits to the Jewish and general community. The Caretakers Cottage Youth Refuge was established in 1977, helping homeless kids from the local community for almost 40 years.

© The Jewish Report 2016

BeFit Games Fundraiser

The BeFit Games will see teams of two up against each other across three Saturdays starting on Saturday August 13 2016.

The price of entry will be $50 per person ($100 per team) with all proceeds going to Options Youth Housing.

There will be prizes for the winning male and female teams across the 3 events but anyone can enter.
Doesn't matter what fitness level you're at and doesn't matter if you can only attend one of the Saturdays, it's all about having a go, having fun and making a difference to a fantastic charity.

We've partnered with Options Youth Housing and wanted to support them to provide housing, support, education and skill building for young people who cannot return to their family home. The more people that know about Options Youth Housing , the greater their impact, so please also spread the word by sharing my page with your friends and family.

Contact Ben on 0401 252 665 to register your team and donate via our Everyday Hero page.

Details such as locations and times will be given closer to the first Saturday

Press Release: Homeless Kids, the Invisible Victims of Domestic and Family Violence

Laurie Matthews | Caretakers Cottage | April 26, 2016

Yfoundations, the peak body for youth homelessness in New South Wales has recently published a policy paper “Slamming the Door” outlining the gaps in the youth homelessness sector’s response to domestic and family violence (DFV).

The paper asserts that the existing DFV literature discusses children and young people largely as “witnesses” or “secondary” victims of the violence perpetrated against their Mothers. This understates the involvement of young people in DFV, ignoring that they may be a direct victim of DFV, their role in protecting and supporting the parent who is a victim of abuse, or the vicarious effects of abuse on child or young person’s worldviews and mental health.(1)

Caretakers Cottage has long been an advocate for the very young and homeless (specifically the homeless “under 16s”), especially in the aftermath of the Going Home Staying Home reform; Caretakers has already implemented the following strategies for meeting the needs of young victims of DFV, and many of our strategies are similarly included in the Yfoundations policy paper recommendations.

  • Philosophy: Caretakers Cottage firmly believes that youth homelessness is “not about the bed” but about having a safe and supporting home; youth homelessness is more often an issue of child protection, not accommodation.
  • Case-management/support: All clients (& their families, where applicable), receive support from a caseworker. Support is provided to clients of all genders (including transgender youth).
  • A young male who is a DFV victim will receive the same high quality support as a female client;
  • Advocacy: Caretakers advocates to child protection agencies on behalf of the client (especially where there have been gaps in service provision, reporting, etc.);
  • Data collection on DFV clients are included in both the required SHS data collection (e.g. in reasons for seeking assistance) as well as part of an independent research project run by Caretakers Cottage;
  • Caretakers Cottage has positive working relationships with SHS and DFV services in the
  • Eastern Suburbs;
  • Specific DFV training has been provided to staff at the Caretakers Cottage Crisis Youth Refuge as part of a comprehensive number of training sessions;
  • On-site counselling is offered to clients, this counselling is offered regardless of whether they
  • fit the “mental health” category and specifically for those who are unlikely to attend a session
  • at an outside service (e.g. a local Headspace office);
  • Caretakers Cottage has launched “Colour My Voice” – a pilot art therapy program – helping
  • our clients express their emotions, learn coping strategies and engage with casework;
  • Caretakers Cottage understands that returning home is not always an appropriate outcome for homeless kids (especially victims of DFV) and works towards the most appropriate outcome (e.g. medium term accommodation, an OOHC response, etc.).

For additional information, please contact Laurie Matthews, CEO of Caretakers Cottage, at: (02) 9389 0999 or press@caretakers.org.au.


1: Fielding, Jessica & Chris Stone. Slamming the Door: Policy and service gaps for Young People Experiencing Domestic and Family Violence. Yfoundations. 2016.

© Caretakers Cottage 2016

Queer, Young and Homeless

David Lewis | ABC News | April 3, 2016

David Lewis: What makes LGBTI young people so vulnerable to homelessness and why do they remain invisible? I'm David Lewis and this is Background Briefing.

I've come to Sydney for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It's the biggest celebration of pride and diversity on the calendar. And thousands of people have lined Oxford St to wave the rainbow flag.

Where have you come from?

Vox 1: I came here from Hawaii but I'm from New York City and I always attended the parade there, it's quite an awesome experience. And I just happened to land in Kings Cross during the Mardi Gras period and I'm like, 'Wow, how exciting is that', so here I am.

Vox 2: All right, ABC Radio, what do you want to know?

David Lewis: I want to know why you're here for Mardi Gras?

Vox 2: We really support the whole gay thing. These are our two really good friends, who are lesbians. Hannah and I are both straight but we love them so much and we think it's really important that everybody should be allowed to be who they are and do what they want and why should there be any stereotypes and any prejudice? We love them so much. Let them be who they want to be.

David Lewis: Can you talk me through your outfits?

Vox 3: I'm wearing a one-piece spandex rainbow uniform with a cat bag.

David Lewis: Was it hard to get on?

Vox 3: No, not really. You just slip it on. Easy enough. And some pink Converse shoes.

David Lewis: And you've forgotten your bling.

Vox 3: Oh yeah! And a Boy George earring, of course.

  IMAGE:  JOSIE, AN 18-YEAR-OLD TRANSGENDER WOMAN FROM COUNTRY NSW. (ABC RN/DAVID LEWIS)

IMAGE: JOSIE, AN 18-YEAR-OLD TRANSGENDER WOMAN FROM COUNTRY NSW. (ABC RN/DAVID LEWIS)

David Lewis: Through the crowds I spot the person I've come here to meet, 18-year-old transgender woman Josie. She's leading a float in the parade for Twenty10, an LGBTI support group. She's certainly risen to the occasion with make-up, hair extensions, and a dress she later tells me she could scarcely afford but had to have. And she's smiling as she performs a carefully choreographed dance she's clearly spent many hours rehearsing. Mardi Gras is the one night of the year she can truly be herself but when I catch up with her the next morning, the mood in the city has already changed, and Josie, who's still wearing that dress, gets a very different reception. And a warning; strong language follows.

Josie: So the adrenaline is still going from last night so I don't care what I'm wearing but everyone's looking at me right now because they've never seen a fucking lady-boy before! Sorry, that was a bad side of my temper.

David Lewis: Do you get that a lot? Do you get weird looks?

Josie: I do, every day. I can't walk past many people without them being like, 'What are you?'

David Lewis: Josie moved to Sydney from country NSW and has been struggling to find shelter ever since.

Josie: I'm still on the streets again, but that's only because I keep getting myself kicked out of refuges.

David Lewis: And why is that, do you think?

Josie: Because I hate authority.

David Lewis: And so that leads to a bit of trouble-making?

Josie: Yes! I love causing trouble, it's my life! Come on, I'm trans. Well, this trans girl likes to cause a lot of trouble anyway.

David Lewis: When you hear Josie's story, it's no wonder she's so well-acquainted with trouble.

Josie: I think it was my sister or my mum, I can't remember, but one of them had this dress, it was floral and it was short, not really short, but it was like a little skirt kind of thing. I used to wear it around the backyard all the time.

David Lewis: What was it like growing up navigating that territory, not really knowing at that time that you would become trans?

Josie: I didn't even know they existed back then, so it was pretty, like, I can't remember exactly how I felt but I'm pretty sure I was really depressed because I didn't know a way that I could be a girl without being seen as a freak.

David Lewis: But a freak she was in the eyes of some kids at school.

Josie: So I wore dresses to school when I was in primary school. It was pretty full on. I used to get bullied a lot. It was traumatic. These kids don't realise that if they did that to somebody else, that other person could have been suicidal or depressed, even at that age. Like, come on people, stop bullying. No.

David Lewis: Josie's life in a far flung regional town eventually became unbearable. The same taunts she was subjected to in the playground were being thrown at her in the family home. And her relationship with her stepdad turned violent. And a warning; strong language follows.

Josie: He would literally come into my room and say, 'Stop listening to that girly shit,' or something like that, or, 'You fucking faggot, poo-jabber, butt-puncher, mud monkey,' all these really hurtful names. And then I'd go to the police about him hitting me and shit and they'd just ignore it.

David Lewis: How old were you?

Josie: This happened from the age of eight, until I was 15. I left home when I was 15. I'll never go back, never, never, never go back.

David Lewis: So that's seven years of violence and abuse?

Josie: Yeah, but the worst thing was that I remember is him saying that I was a mistake, that I shouldn't have been born, and just lots of hurtful shit, like he'd walk past the door and be like 'I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you're not in this house anymore.' And then one day I remember I said to him, 'You're not going to have to worry about that anymore because I'm leaving.'

  IMAGE:  LAURIE MATTHEWS FROM CARETAKERS' COTTAGE IN SYDNEY'S EASTERN SUBURBS. (ABC RN/DAVID LEWIS)

IMAGE: LAURIE MATTHEWS FROM CARETAKERS' COTTAGE IN SYDNEY'S EASTERN SUBURBS. (ABC RN/DAVID LEWIS)

Laurie Matthews: And we're coming in here to the kitchen. It's a fairly good kitchen...

David Lewis: When Josie came to Sydney, she went from refuge to refuge looking for help. She spent a bit of time here at Caretakers' Cottage, a seven-bedroom share-house for the homeless in the city's eastern suburbs.

Laurie Matthews: Josie has come from rural NSW and I think represents very well the reason why we got going in the first place. We were providing somewhere that was safe in the big city, where young people had a chance of getting employment and education and safe accommodation.

David Lewis: Laurie Matthews is the CEO.

Laurie Matthews: Josie's situation was that Josie is identifying as a young trans person who has struggled massively with coming to grips with who she is. A lot of that stems from home but also from the way Josie has been able to learn about who she is herself. She's not there yet, not by a long shot, so she's still exploring and learning who she is, and it's a painful journey in many respects because for a young trans person there are lots of obstacles. Much more than for any other person in the community.

David Lewis: Such as?

Laurie Matthews: I think that gender identity brings out a lot more hostility from general members of the community, from peers. It's dangerous in many respects, and it also has a lot more stigma attached to it, I think, than other members of the LGBTI community.

David Lewis: That stigma often means finding a job is difficult. And so Josie went looking for others ways to make money.

Josie: That's when I was sex working.

David Lewis: It was a decision that led her down a dangerous path.

Josie: When I was doing sex work, I started smoking ice because it was a time killer. Like, time flies when you're on ice. It literally flies. It goes so fast. Your adrenaline is kicking in, you're constantly moving, and you can't sit still, kind of like me right now because I've had so many sugars.

David Lewis: That's sugars in her coffee, by the way; six to be precise. Josie tells me she's since stopped using drugs. But back at Caretakers' Cottage, nothing about her story comes as a surprise to Laurie Matthews.

Laurie Matthews: I think what's typical is finding somewhere where there's some safety with peers and friends, and so the sex work and the drug use I think goes with the territory in some respects. It's an environment in which you can find some safety in numbers, where you find you are not totally isolated and alone, so it's a fairly natural environment for young people to be attracted to. There are many, many people out there who don't put themselves in those more risky situations but some do and Josie's one of those people who has been in fairly risky and dangerous situations but we know why because she's got friends and identity there.

David Lewis: Today, Josie has come to the LGBTI support service Twenty10 in Sydney's inner-city. It's the same organisation she marched for at Mardi Gras. She's speaking here to executive director Brett Paradise about getting a house through Twenty10. She was in one before but got kicked out for bad behaviour. Now Josie wants a second chance, but she'll have to clear a major hurdle first.

Josie: I'm getting that house back. You watch me. I'm going to get that fricking place back.

Brett Paradise: So what is it you need to do? We need to get through...

Josie: Three months. I think that's what Susan said. Three months of not getting kicked out of a refuge and then I have my place back.

Brett Paradise: The way I look at things; I count how long…

Josie: I lasted at each one...

Brett Paradise: Yeah, how long you last at things and you're getting better and better.

Josie: I lasted at Taldy for two months. I lasted at Don Bosco for four months. Then I got my house and then I got kicked out of my house, so now it's just like, I hate refuges, I want my house back, I hate having no freedom.

David Lewis: Twenty10 has agreed to give Josie another go. But first she'll have to prove she can handle living independently by not getting thrown out of her current refuge. So far, she hasn't blown it.

© Australian Broadcasting Company 2016

How Sydney's Overheated Housing Market Keeps Young People on the Streets

Runaway house prices are the talk of city dinner parties. But they also make it harder for young people to move out of homeless services into private accommodation, and prevent others from even getting into refuges

Paul Karp and Michael Safi | The Guardian | Saturday 13 February 2016

 Jack (not his real name) is studying music and has aspirations of starting a rap label. He is staying in a homeless refuge in Bondi and wants to move to somewhere where he can be more independent. Photograph: Matthew Abbott for the Guardian

Jack (not his real name) is studying music and has aspirations of starting a rap label. He is staying in a homeless refuge in Bondi and wants to move to somewhere where he can be more independent. Photograph: Matthew Abbott for the Guardian

Jack isn’t much interested in Sydney’s soaring house prices. The 16-year-old, one month into his latest stint in a homeless refuge, started Tafe this week, studying music. He’s more occupied with starting his own rap label. That, and moving up the ladder of the New South Wales homelessness system. The bargain is simple: gather the necessary life skills – not having to be told “to wake up, to look after yourself, to do your chores”, Jack says – and you advance. His next rung is transitional housing. “A step above this, where you’re more independent,” he says, gesturing at his stately Bondi shelter, walls adorned with photos, art, extensive house rules and a painting reading, Relax Don’t Relapse.

 A painting by one of the live-in youths at the entrance of Caretakers Cottage, a centre for 12- to 17-year-olds in Bondi. Photograph: Matthew Abbott for the Guardian

A painting by one of the live-in youths at the entrance of Caretakers Cottage, a centre for 12- to 17-year-olds in Bondi. Photograph: Matthew Abbott for the Guardian

Independence is the goal of the entire system, and Jack’s too, since his relationship with his father deteriorated and he was forced on to the streets. “Getting my own place, moving into an apartment with roommates,” he says, grinning under a baseball cap pulled low. “That’d be pretty good.” But the city’s overheated housing market has other ideas. Runaway prices, and the high rents that follow, might be staple conversations at dinner parties and pubs around Sydney, but they bite hardest for Jack and young people like him.

“The front door is open,” says Michael Coffey, the chief executive of Yfoundations, a youth homelessness peak body. “But there’s a blockage at the back door. There’s just not enough housing for people who go into the homeless system to get out, and into independence.” According to an annual snapshot by Anglicare, of the more than 65,000 rental listings they surveyed last April, just 1% were considered affordable for singles on unemployment or other benefits.

For the few properties they can afford, the stereotypes about homeless people present a formidable barrier: real estate agents are not wooed by applications that list crisis accommodation as the last address. The result is a clogged system: young people ready to leave a crisis shelter or transitional house but blocked from doing so; while others who desperately need to enter the system remain stuck on the streets. Now Macquarie Street is wading in.

For many, such as Jack, it’s family breakdown that pushes them into the system. For others it’s domestic violence, the death of a parent, a stint in jail. “Young people don’t leave home because they didn’t get Coco Pops for breakfast,” Coffey says. “It’s for really terrible situations.” Just how many young people make up Sydney’s homeless population is unclear. The City of Sydney’s twice-a-year Street Count – a 3am torchlit survey of rough sleepers and occupied hostel beds – in August turned up 828 people. But it’s an underestimation of the total, particularly of young people, who are more likely to couch surf, move between friends and family, or never be noticed by the system at all, advocates say.

The specialist youth services are creaking, says Katherine McKernan, the chief of Homelessness NSW. “The crisis system is experiencing the highest demand for some time,” she says. Winning a lease is hard for any young person. Real estate agents, understandably, prefer to see salaries, rental records and a stable lifestyle. For homeless young people the odds are even longer. “They don’t have high incomes, they’re generally on Centrelink; they have multiple personal barriers to independence due to complex trauma, and often they have issues with employment due to their personal issues,” says Michelle Ackerman, the operations manager at YP Space, a young persons’ social service.

Anna, who became homeless in her mid-teens, got lucky. She’s subleasing, off books, from a pensioner. But her specific needs narrowed her chances. “I needed to stay in the area because my psychologist was bounded by the region,” she says. “And the prices there were really high.” Complicating matters, half the region was off limits – too close to her family, from who she’s estranged. And owing to the mental toll of her experiences, the university student can only work part-time, and is sometimes laid low by a crisis. “I needed a place I could stay even when I wasn’t earning money,” she says.

Even those young people with more straightforward demands find price a hurdle. A bedsit unit in a relatively affordable area such as Mount Druitt in western Sydney still costs $171 a week – about half the income of a someone on youth allowance. Over the past decade, rents in Sydney have jumped 56.8%, far outstripping the growth of wages (41.6%), the minimum wage (37.1%) and the Newstart allowance (30.8%). “We have noticed a massive increase in rental prices,” says Kellie Checkley, the head of another homelesnessness service, Project Youth. “I have staff who are trying to rent places and have difficulty and they have good full-time jobs – so what hope does a young person have?”

Caretakers Cottage runs the Bondi crisis centre for 12- to 17-year-olds where Jack lives, and also provides transitional and semi-independent housing in 35 units and houses around Sydney’s south-east suburbs, including Mascot and Maroubra. Laurie Matthews, the chief executive and co-founder of Caretakers Cottage, says young people can’t move out of homelessness into the private rental market because it’s unaffordable. Of 20 young people who left Caretakers Cottage’s transitional housing in the last year, just seven moved into the private rental market, with the rest moving back with family or extended family. Matthews says he is “astounded” as many as seven were able to afford to rent in Sydney, an “exceptional circumstance” that came about because some older young men found well-paid labouring jobs and were able to get a sharehouse together. “Some of the students staying with us have gone to set up student housing but you need to do a lot of casual work to sustain living in the private rental market,” he says.

Actually persuading the real estate agent is the next challenge. Chris Stone, a policy officer with Yfoundations, says stereotypes loom large in agents’ minds. “If [young people] go to inspections by themselves, real estate agents don’t think they can pay rent,” he says. “If they go in with other young people, they’re a gang. If they go in with a caseworker, then there’s a stigma. “Some [real estate agents] see a letter from homelessness service as a good thing because it means they have support. But others say it means they have problems, so no thank you.”

Rebecca, 22, and Dennis, 23, are a Port Macquarie couple in Housing NSW emergency housing, hoping to find a place in YP Space’s semi-independent accommodation. The couple, who have a newborn baby, had to leave home after a family breakdown in December. Rebecca says since then they have put in more than 60 applications for rental properties, without success. Dennis says the couple try to go to inspections together but he sometimes goes by himself so Rebecca can look after their daughter. A social worker drives Dennis to inspections as he does not have a licence and suffers from arthritis. The couple has a budget of between $280 and $350 a week, with Rebecca receiving a parenting payment and Dennis the Newstart allowance. “[Housing NSW] and YP Space have said we’re doing everything right … everyone has said that our applications are strong, but because we have no rental history we won’t get a place,” Rebecca says.

 Laurie Matthews at the entrance to Caretakers Cottage, the centre he and Sara Matthews founded in 1977. Photograph: Matthew Abbott for the Guardian

Laurie Matthews at the entrance to Caretakers Cottage, the centre he and Sara Matthews founded in 1977. Photograph: Matthew Abbott for the Guardian

Project Youth, another charity, helps to bolster young people’s applications. Its case workers offer lifts to inspections, advice on applications and financial counselling to improve credit and rental history. It houses young people in semi-independent units where they sign subleases and pay rent as they would in the market. Stephanie, 23, tells Guardian Australia Project Youth supported her into a sharehouse and then a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney’s south-east after a family breakdown. Caseworkers can teach people to drive, create payment plans for bills and, in her case, arranged a business mentor for her graphic design work. “Where I live is pretty much like a private rental,” she says. “The idea is that you’re given rental history so you’ll have an easier time to find a place to live.”

Real estate agents, too, can be part of the solution. Eva Gerencer helped to establish the Macarthur Real Estate Engagement Project after recognising that in a competitive market, “homeless people just couldn’t compete”. Her team cultivated relationships with agents – three in the first year, then 10 in the second – to vouch for the homeless clients they would refer as budding tenants. “Welfare speak” didn’t cut it with the agents. “We realised it had to work both ways. For them to want to participate they had to see they would save time and cost,” she says. The pitch was simple: keeping a struggling client in a house is cheaper for agents than evicting them. When a client ran into trouble, the agents could call on Gerencer’s team, who would intervene with payment plans, employment services or financial counselling. Nearly 60 tenancies were saved during her tenure. The project in Macarthur is now run by Mission Australia, with similar initiatives springing up across Sydney.

The state government has a complicated relationship with Sydney’s surging house market. The stamp duty it hauls in has increased 25% each year since 2012-13, according to the Grattan Institute’s John Daley. But the minister for social housing, Brad Hazzard, recognises the pressure it puts on government services. The public housing waiting list now exceeds 60,000 and existing residents are staying longer.

This month Hazzard launched a 10-year strategy that includes increasing the number of youth who cycle through the homelessness system and into long-term, stable housing – preferably private – by 10%. It also includes more use of rental assistance schemes, including a medium-term rental subsidy, financial counselling, bond loans and rent advances – lifejackets to keep people afloat in the private market. In the NSW premier, Mike Baird, advocates might have an ally. Baird has volunteered with youth homelessness services, and choked up talking about it on the campaign trail In September, he whittled down his predecessor’s 321 government priorities to just 30. Moving more homeless youth into housing made the cut. It’s a reason to hope Macquarie Street is serious – and a standard to hold it to.

The names of all the young people in this article have been changed.

© The Guardian 2016

Bondi Local Profile: Laurie Matthews

Melanie Giuffré | Bondi Fresh Daily | December 18, 2015

Laurie Matthews founded the Caretakers Cottage in 1972 with a grant of just $40. Since those humble beginnings in Paddington, the organisation (which moved to Bondi 20 years ago) has provided accommodation and out of care support to well over 40,000 children, teenagers and young adults. Melanie spoke to Laurie at Caretakers Cottage on Bondi Road.


Melanie Giuffré: Can we start by getting a little bit of your background...

Laurie Matthews: I didn’t start out in the Eastern Suburbs. I was born in Camperdown. My father was a minister in the Uniting Church and eventually he settled into a parish in Paddington and Woollahra and that’s how I came to the Eastern Suburbs, and that was in about 1970. I went to school at Newington and began working after school around the local neighbourhood in the Holdsworth Street playground and from there I eventually grew into the social welfare area presumably through my father’s influence.

So, why a refuge? We had a teenage drop-in-centre in Woollahra that had sort of come to the end of its time. We’d had young kids who had come in as teenagers had started to grow older and were moving on. We found that we were accommodating some kids at that stage in our large extended family home, especially on the weekends when parents weren’t around and had abandoned their kids for the weekend.

Melanie Giuffré: When you say “we” you mean your family?

Laurie Matthews: Yep, my family. We’re talking the early 70s and we’re talking what was ostensibly a big hippie house in Paddington and so it was quite an alternative environment and we had a spare room in the house so when someone needed a bed they got a bed. It was often young people but we had no particular age that we were working with. We didn’t see ourselves as running a youth refuge as such we were just providing accommodation to people who needed it.

However, we had an interesting community, particularly in the Paddington area at that time because Paddington was being gentrified quite quickly however there were still large remnants of old timers in the area; council workers, a particularly fascinating group of old boxers and their partners from the Sydney Stadium and they continued to be in the area until way into the 80s. However we ended up we ended up accommodating young people in our extended family home and saw that there was a bit of a common theme coming along. It was a time when large institutional care was being closed down everywhere and there  were the remnants of traditional old orphanages and there was nothing coming along to replace them. It was clear that that sort of accommodation was inappropriate and needed to be replaced so we formalised our approach. We approached the minister (of Youth and Community Services) of the day, Rex Jackson, and he threw us a few thousand dollars and we thought that was “fantastic, what recognition!” But it was quite astute on his part as it tied us into providing a service, which we did, quite happily.

Melanie Giuffré: You started your life’s work…

Laurie Matthews: Yes, absolutely. My wife and I were on the dole to cover our costs and so forth and we formally set up the refuge. And it was in a building that was the caretaker’s cottage up at the Uniting Church in Paddington. As time has gone by we have grown. It was a tiny little house that we were in. We’ve got formalised funding now, from the State Government and a little bit from the Canberra. We work very, very hard and the first lot of funding came along in 1981 so we survived for about 4 years without any formal funding, the church had given us real estate and we were able to get some largesse from various places around.

Melanie Giuffré: What about the house we are in now?

Laurie Matthews: That comes a little later. We’ve been here on Bondi Road for about 20 years. And there’s a story to that as well. As a young guy growing up in Paddington I’d catch the bus top Bondi Beach and I remember seeing the house we’re currently in and thinking, wow, that’s the best looking terrace on Bondi Road! I don’t know why I was looking at real estate back then! And here we are!

We grew quite rapidly and became a fairly significant accommodation service in the Eastern Suburbs. There weren’t many others. There was a long-­term refuge in Randwick but that’s about it. We saw ourselves as a crisis refuge. We were picking up people who were instantly in need. We were having people referred to us from police, schools and the Department of Community Services, or whatever it was called at that time. So we became a formalised part of the homelessness service system as funded by government.

Once we became part of the system our name was out there on directories and we started to develop a bit of a following through word of mouth, Young homeless people would know other young homeless people and their friends would refer themselves. It happens organically after a while.

I often get asked why a refuge in Bondi. We are accommodating homeless 12 to 18 year olds here in this particular service. And I would say, in fact it’s not about poverty, it’s not about people down on their luck, it’s about relationships. We have young people here who do come from impoverished kinds of backgrounds. We also have many young people who are currently at the best private schools in town, who live in the most expensive harbourside suburbs, and they’re here because the relationships within their families are not working well. A classic example kind of scenario for us is to be working with a young person whose parents have split, they’ve formed new relationships and they might have new kids in those relationships and the kid from the original relationship finds himself lost between two separated partners. That’s a really common scenario. The original partners will often try to leave their past behind, including their kids, unbelievably.

Melanie Giuffré: How would those kids find you?

Laurie Matthews: They will come to know us one way or another. If you are a young child in that instance, you will be hurt and they will show their hurt in different ways. Some will get involved in drugs and crime. Others will come to be noticed at school for being disruptive, etc. One way or another they will come to be noticed. Some young people will take the initiative themselves and run away from home. And so they come to us through schools, through the police, through a whole range of ways.

These days, every kid at high school will know some kid who has ended up in a refuge of some sort.

Our role though is to try to resolve the issues that have led to homelessness. We don’t want young people to end up in a refuge in the first place. It’s not a particularly comfortable situation, and I see young people arrive at our place and they walk in the front door they’re wondering where on earth are they, what is going to happen? Is this a nice place? It’s scary. Some take it in their stride, but that’s not the majority. So our role is to try to walk to try resolve the issues and we have endless phone conversations with parents and young people working to try get resolutions. And we do. We might find that there are mental health issues that need to be attended to and so as we have a bit of experience in the field we know how to link people up with the right kind of support services.

Part of our funding enables us to pass some of our funding on to the Ted Noffs Foundation which does early intervention work in schools on drug and alcohol, however they have now expanded that to include isolating young people who are at risk of homelessness and engaging with them and their families.

So we work to try and prevent kids from coming here in the first place. When kids end up in a youth refuge it really does represent a bit of a disaster for everybody concerned. In our society any fool is meant to able to be a parent. If you’re seen to be struggling at that and your child is seen to be not in your care, what does that say about you? So for a parent it’s really tough time to have to face.

Melanie Giuffré: Do you often see the resolution between the kids and the parents?

Laurie Matthews: For sure! I think a crisis is not always a bad thing. A crisis can be an opportunity for everyone to step back and reassess – “Is this really where I want to go?” We have young people residing in the house at the moment who have definitely had some tough times in their families and they want to get back home. It’s familiar and for all the difficulties it might be safer in their own mind. Because they don’t know where they’re heading.

Everybody wants to be loved and cared for, although some who are very hurt or broken don’t want the world to come too close, but behind that it’s a human thing. It’s really common for a young person to form a close bond with a youth worker here because they are someone who has taken a positive interest in that person. They become the most significant person in that young person’s life. We don’t want that to be the case so we have to work very hard to get the relationship working in the kids’ families but it doesn’t always happen though.

There are situations that are unsafe and unhealthy for that kid to return to. It’s not going to be happy families for everybody. In some situations we are helping young people to find alternative paths and to be able to be strong and to stand on their own two feet. Personally I find it a tough thing to be asking a young person to suddenly be an adult because it deprives them of their youth.

Another part of our programme is our transitional housing programme. We’ve got 62 placements in about 30 houses around the Eastern Suburbs, through NSW Housing – now Bridge Housing. So we are able to be able to set up housing and support for some young people in those houses to be paying rent and learning the skills of living independently. That has its moments but many young people they have to learn and to take responsibility for themselves. Our role is transitioning them from being fully supported in a crisis refuge to having a go at that independence and to then hopefully move out into the general market.

Melanie Giuffré: Do you stay in contact with the young people coming though?

Laurie Matthews: We don’t hear from the majority of young people and that’s probably a good thing. They want to put it all behind them and they’ve moved on, some successfully, some not. This morning I had a phone call form a guy in Perth who had made contact with us in 1987 when he was a 13 year old.  He’s fairly unwell and has been living in the bush in Frenchs Forest. He has now moved out of there and managed to put some money together and is in Perth for some reason. But he continues to ring me. We have a Facebook page and I have quite a bit of contact with people who are in their 40s. And they maintain contact with us because we have been significant player in their lives. One of the gratifying things is that we often have kids ringing up asking for help but that’s the same as any person who rings back to mum and dad and we are more than happy to help those young people through those scrapes. And then there’s all the others who come along to show their babies off.

Melanie Giuffré: That must be incredibly satisfying…

Laurie Matthews: Absolutely. We have a hallway full of photos and there are young mums with their babies and there are kids who were residents and it gives a real sense of belonging when they see their photos on the wall.

Melanie Giuffré: We’ve come to the end but one last question, do you have a motto for life?

Laurie Matthews: I reckon that: Life is good!

Melanie Giuffré: It’s great that you can see the things you see and still think that life is good!

Laurie Matthews: I’m amazed. We keep on hearing that we need to keep our options open and change career paths – that the old notion of a job for life is supposedly gone, but I’m afraid its not! I get up every morning happy to come to work. I live a long way away and I drive to work, listen to the radio, I enjoy what I do. I know the results and the outcome that come of it so it’s rewarding to me and I think it’s rewarding for the participants in our programmes too.

Melanie Giuffré: Thank you very much.

© Bondi Fresh Daily 2016

Launch of New Youth Services at Caretakers Cottage

Gabrielle Upton MP | Community Newsletter | June 2015

On 15 May 2015, Caretakers Cottage youth refuge in Bondi celebrated the launch of new services as part of the NSW Government’s Going Home Staying Home Homelessness Services reform.

The Government is committed to tacking homelessness in our local community and these reforms will deliver better and easier-to-access services for our vulnerable youth.

I commend CEO Laurie Matthews and the Caretakers team for the work they do to support at-risk youth.

© Gabrielle Upton MP Community Newsletter 2015

Feeling Invisible

Astha Rajvanshi | Honi Soit | June 10, 2015

 Astha Rajvanshi on Sydney’s growing youth homelessness crisis.  Illustration by Julia Robertson.

Astha Rajvanshi on Sydney’s growing youth homelessness crisis. Illustration by Julia Robertson.

For those who have never experienced it, homelessness will usually prompt images of people sleeping in parks, crouching in a line along the tunnel at Railway Square, or begging for money on George Street.

However, the majority of young people who experience homelessness do not live on the streets, but rather in temporary, unstable housing: they might crash in their friends’ homes, take up emergency accommodation in homeless shelters, or float from one public space with a couch to the next. It is in this transient, nomadic existence that homeless young people are often left by the wayside, faced with the trauma of losing the comfort and safety of one’s surroundings—by society’s standards, they are invisible and worthless.

And if the homeless move unseen, why would anyone care? 

* * *

“When I say ‘homeless’, there’s a difference between being homeless and sleeping rough,” Andy, a 23-year-old university student who has experienced intermittent homelessness for five years, explains. “Quite often people think everyone who’s sleeping rough is homeless, when in fact there are people who have homes but may have abusive families or partners and are sleeping rough, and there are people who have temporary accommodation.”

“It’s that precarious state of not being registered, of not having a residence, or a proper home,” they say. 

At the age of 18, Andy, a queer and trans student, found themselves homeless. They had grown increasingly apart from their parents after struggling to keep up with overbearing expectations over their gender and sexuality, and one day, their parents finally changed the locks on the front door of their home.

“It was a separation of sorts,” says Andy. “I remember thinking, ‘shit, where am I staying?’ I had a backpack, a tote bag and some clothes—three pairs of pants, a pair of undies, and the top I was wearing—nothing else.”

Andy was enrolled at university, and this allowed them access to the Queerspace (an autonomous, safe space for queer students on campus) for several nights. Looking for accommodation proved increasingly difficult and turned into a vicious cycle—they were actively denied by homeless shelters on the basis of their gender and sexuality, and then by the rental market because they were homeless.

“There’s this huge gap that exists between homeless shelters and actual housing,” they say. “They can do that because they have power over you. You are not registered with anything; you don’t have any documentation to prove yourself.”

Eventually, although a social worker helped Andy through the process of filling out paperwork, it didn’t help ease the mental transition.

“Being homeless is like everything in life is on pause. You just don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with forms because it’s not a priority,” says Andy. “The priority is where you’re sleeping for the night, if you’re warm, and if there’s any food. It’s the basic stuff.”

Currently, Andy is living in transitional housing arranged by their social worker in the Inner West.

“When I first walked into the house, the only thing I managed was to run around the house, go up to my room, fall on the bed and cry… I hadn’t cried in so long,” they reflect. “I realised that I could now deal with emotions because I can do things other than be homeless 24/7.”

For Andy, however, the trauma of being homeless hasn’t been resolved simply by finding a room with a bed. They are constantly struggling with poor mental health and depression, only worsened by the constant search for a sense of purpose in life. 

“That’s the battle—when you’re homeless, you’re at risk of violence and [poor] mental health, but they think it can be solved by putting a roof over your head. They don’t realise that if you’re not followed up or supported to figure out what you’re going to do with yourself, you’ll just fall straight back into homelessness.”

* * *

The most common causes of homelessness are domestic and family violence, often affecting queer people. Other causes include financial burden, unaffordable housing, and drug and alcohol abuse.

These issues leave many young people trapped between sleeping rough and staying in temporary accommodation. For service providers and support groups, the main priority is preventing the progression to chronic homelessness.

Homelessness can have devastating effects on young people—high rates of mental health problems, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted infections, while deteriorating health can contribute to a lack of wellbeing.

In 2014, over 250,000 Australians accessed homelessness services, of which 87,774 adults received support for family or domestic violence, and 16 per cent of all clients identified a ‘housing crisis’ as the main reason for seeking assistance. And yet, in June of the same year, $29.1 million in federal funding was lost from reducing homelessness and facilitating early intervention to prevent young people becoming homeless. A submission to the Legislative Council of the NSW government on the issue stated that, “the removal of $29.1 million in Commonwealth government funding for homelessness in NSW the cuts “will have flow-on impacts to the wider housing and homelessness sectors.”

Within the City of Sydney, homelessness has been steadily rising over the years. A street count conducted by the City Council in February earlier this year estimated that there are over 800 homeless people—an increase by 26 per cent in the past year—with 365 sleeping rough or staying in overnight shelters, and 462 in occupied hostel beds.

However, when it comes to discussing how to best end long-term homelessness, the answers remain short. Perhaps rather aptly, the City of Sydney website states: “Homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution”.

* * *

Mark, a fourth year Engineering student, became homeless at age 16 following his escape from a controlling, abusive family environment. The situation spiralled out of control after his mother chased him out of the house with a pair of scissors. Suddenly he was running for his life, and after wandering for a few hours, he went to his local library and searched “youth homeless shelters”.

“I got in touch with Caretakers Cottage in Bondi and they started their case management—I got interviewed by some counsellors, and coupled with the DOCS record of my family from incidents involving my older autistic brother, it was determined my home life was dangerous,” he says. 

The service helped Mark to apply for Centrelink payments, and lined him up with a medium-term share house. “I snuck home a few times while my mum was at work to collect my clothes, laptop and other belongings. I continued going to work, surf club and other things. When school came back, I kept going, except now every teacher knew I was living independently,” he explains.

After finishing his HSC, Mark applied for university and lived just as he was before, except he was no longer “getting yelled at or beaten every other day”. His caseworker informed him that starting university meant leaving the share house due to high demand for medium-term accommodation, and Mark moved into on-campus housing.

But homelessness has helped shape Mark’s understanding of the issue through the people he’s met along the way. “The stereotype of homeless youth is a poor kid with alcoholic parents or drug issues and a broken family. My caseworker once said they exist, but are in the minority and rarely ask for help. Some don’t make it and end up on the street,” he says.

“The other kids I met in the program had some pretty horrible stories—gay, bi and trans kids by the dozen who came out to their parents and then got shown the door or faced such abuse they had to leave,” says Mark. “These kids thought they had loving parents who wouldn’t care about their sexuality and suddenly, ‘nope, out you get’. A few kids were homeless because an accident or illness killed their parents, and they had nowhere else to go.”

Luckily for Mark, support came from day one, which has helped him to plan things effectively. His advice to young people facing homelessness is to seek support and start planning almost immediately. “If you have a job, start saving. If you don’t, keep trying to find one. Learn how to cook a few meals, how to do washing and ironing, and other life skills. Shit happens, and then your current support is gone,” he says, matter-of-factly.

* * *

The Step Ahead research conducted by Professor Marty in 2010 highlighted that “the pathway through university for young people affected by homelessness is achievable, but fraught”.

University students who are homeless can often fall between the service categories of adult and youth homelessness. As such, there is little research on university students who have been homeless, with no data collected to date on how many Australian university students are affected by it. The most relevant study was conducted back in 2006—a survey of Australia’s 97 universities, with 18,773 responses—which revealed widespread experiences of financial hardship. One in eight students indicated that they regularly went without food or other necessities.

Young homeless people who attend university usually take longer to complete their studies, too. The students struggle with what Professor Marty describes as the “legacies of homelessness”—an absence of financial resources, support networks of family and friends, while working in low-paying jobs.

In response to this, the Student Accomodation Services at Sydney University aims to provide some support. “We recognise the devastating impact of homelessness and the impact it has on students’ ability to engage with education,” says Dr Ashvin Parameswaran, head of the Services.

“Many students who reach out to [us] are in between houses and urgently need a place to stay. Student Support Services has designed a number of programs to respond to the needs of our diverse student cohorts, particularly those facing challenges,” he tells Honi.

Students are encouraged to visit the office for direct assistance from the staff, which includes access to emergency rooms for those in urgent need of temporary accomodation, and to the University of Sydney Accommodation Database to assist in locating and navigating off-campus housing in Sydney.

Dr Parameswaran also cites STUCCO as an alternative option, which has “an equitable model whereby students with a reference letter from SRC or SUPRA will be housed temporarily for a period of time at no cost”, and the SRC and SUPRA, who can “assist in referral letters for temporary accommodation”.

* * *

“I’m sure everyone’s experience is different, but for me it was a very rational process of thinking how I was going to survive on a day-to-day basis,” says Danny, 26, who was homeless and living out of his car for a month.

For Danny, it was a matter of looking at the resources available at his disposal, and scoping out all the spots around campus. He found a fridge and microwave in Carslaw to take care of food, and bought a gym membership for toilet and shower facilities. Having a station wagon also meant that he could lie down semi-comfortably. “After that, it was just a matter of finding places to park that wouldn’t attract a lot of attention and wouldn’t get parking fines,” he says.

Living out of his car was “weird” experience, but like many others who find themselves homeless, Danny didn’t have any time to think about anything other than how to survive. At times, he recalls feeling the vulnerability of sleeping on the streets: “There’d be people walking by and you’d hear their conversations, and you don’t know what their intentions are because you’re cut off from them … Or there were nights where it’s just storming really hard, and all you can hear is the wind howling or the rain beating down,” he says. 

“You adapt to it—when you’re in that situation, you have to force yourself to do things, and you don’t have the luxury of being lazy or being bored.”

A month later, Danny was accepted for accommodation at STUCCO. “I was just so happy to have a place to come home to every night, and having a key to this place, it was like shelter and security,” he says.

To anyone facing a similar situation, Danny recommends talking to people and approaching the SRC or the University to move away from the silence around youth homelessness.

“It’s really affirming knowing that you can survive those kind of situations,” he says.

* * *

There are broader initiatives in the community attempting to address youth homelessness.

Sydney Council has proposed several projects as part of a wider Strategic Plan to assist people, and is working towards ending long-term homelessness in Sydney by 2017. This is an ambitious aim, and it will almost certainly require the partnership of the government, non-profit organisations, and the corporate sector, with no further cuts being proposed to federal funding.

Other youth homelessness services in Sydney, although limited, are also working. As part of the NSW government’s ‘Going Home Staying Home’ Specialist Homelessness Services, an Inner West Youth Homeless Service is currently in place to support over 450 young people per year. It provides crisis and transitional accomodation, and proactively identifies those who may be at-risk. Other emergency services like Link2home, Temporary Accomodation Line, and Yconnect all work towards providing emergency accomodation and support workers.

However, even these services cannot provide adequate relief to the homeless. A previous Honiarticle found that in 2012, the Homeless Persons Information Centre (HPIC), which caters to approximately 160 people a day seeking urgent accommodation, received 58,664 calls for assistance. Out of this, 45,448 were unable to find anywhere to sleep.

* * *

In Sydney, it seems that the plight of the homeless will not be answered any time soon—reducing youth homelessness is expensive, and the required funding isn’t forthcoming. Nor is it clear who should bear the primary funding burden, the status quo being supported by a convoluted array of federal, state, and local governments.

Being homeless is more than just losing a house; it’s losing one’s sense of worth. Those who experience it fast become the most vulnerable and socially excluded members of society. On the streets, they routinely face violence, whether accidental or unintentional, that pervades their sense of being. The violence occurs when people weave through the tunnel at Central Station and kick someone who is homeless along the way. It occurs when a drunk, wealthy  person flicks their rubbish at someone sleeping on the pavement on a Saturday night.  It occurs when someone calls a beggar asking for loose change a ‘blight on society’.

“They’re not even acknowledging you as a person, you’re the equivalent of a crate,” says Andy. “You don’t own your body anymore, you don’t own anything—you’re not a person, you don’t have capacity to do that. A jacket is probably the only thing you have, and if someone takes it, it’s someone taking your warmth—your world.”

© Honi Soit 2015