Our story began with a teen Drop-in-Centre, a guest house and finally a Youth Refuge. Laurie and Sara Matthews, together with the help of their family and local community, established what would become one of the very first Youth Refuges in New South Wales.
Since opening those early beginnings, Caretakers Cottage has helped thousands of young people - residential and non-residential - find a safe place to live and build a better future.
1972: The Club
The roots of Caretakers Cottage began in 1972 with the formation of a teen drop-in-centre in Woollahra. "The Club", as it was known, catered to local kids in the Eastern Suburbs who needed some sort of after-school activity. The Club received a small stipend ($40 a week) from the Holdsworth Community Centre which had organised after-school activities for younger children at the Holdsworth Street playground (Holdsworth Community was funded in turn by Woollahra Council).
The Club operated out of 111 Jersey Road for about five years and was run by Laurie Matthews, Peter Matthews and others. Laurie had previously worked for Holdsworth Community.
From Drop-in-Centre to Youth Refuge
After a few years, the drop-in centre had come to the end of its time. Young kids who had come in as teenagers had started to grow older and were moving on. Rex Matthews (Laurie's father) was at that time the minister of the Uniting Church in Paddington. The church had provided the Matthews family with a large house on Newcombe Street as well as a smaller "caretakers cottage" on Gordon Street (which inspired the name of the refuge). The Matthews family found that they were accommodating some kids at that stage in their large extended family home, especially on the weekends when parents weren’t around and had abandoned their kids for the weekend. And this accommodation option was open to anyone who needed a bed. It was often young people but there were adults who received assistance as well. The Matthews family didn’t see themselves as running a youth refuge, just providing accommodation to people who needed it.
However, a pattern or common theme began to emerge when young people sought accommodation. It was a time when large institutional care was being closed down everywhere, there were the remnants of traditional old orphanages but there was nothing coming along to replace them. It became clear that the old institutional sort of accommodation was inappropriate and needed to be replaced with a formalized approach. And so began the Caretakers Cottage Youth Refuge (formed under the Paddington Woollahra Youth Service), a groundbreaking response to the emergence of youth homelessness.
The Paddington Woollahra Youth Service (PWYS) was founded in 1977 and was first chaired by Rex Matthews. The crisis refuge began picking up young people who were in need. Some kids simply arrived at the door, others were referred to from police, schools and from the Department of Community Services.
In 1978, the funding of the youth refuge was quite minimal. The church had provided the property free of charge, the Village Church Centre had contributed $1,000 and Rex Jackson, Minister at that time of NSW Dept. of Youth and Community Services (DOYCS or YACS), provided an additional $2,000. Laurie and his wife Sara Matthews ran the refuge for little and often no pay.
In 1979, the PWYS requested that the Department of Youth and Community Services substantially increase funding to the Caretakers Cottage youth refuge (the refuge workers had to be paid!), and to fund a Shared Housing Letting Service which would operate a Share Accommodation Register which would assist those seeking affordable accommodation. The service became known as "Phone-A-Home" and was in operation for several years. The service was well ahead of its time and utilized a computerized database to help filter accommodation results based on selected preferences (such as price, location, age, pets, and shared interests).
In 1980, the refuge held an opening ceremony to raise awareness in the local community; Minister Rex Jackson was the guest of honour.
In 1981, regular funding from the the Department commenced.
Caretakers Cottage plays an important role in the youth refuge movement. Aside from the youth refuge & the Phone-A-Home service, members of the Matthews family play a central role in the formation of the Youth Refuge Action Group (YRAG), now known as Yfoundations, the peak body organisation for youth homelessness in NSW.
Heroin becomes a serious issue for Sydney teenagers and an explosive ABC documentary, Nobodies Children gets the attention of the general public, policy makers and the business community as to the need for a comprehensive response to youth homelessness and drug abuse.
Increased funding for Caretakers Cottage is the strongest recognition yet of the need for a managed approach to homelessness. The new funds enable Caretakers Cottage to expand its services as it moves into new digs in Albion street in Surry Hills at the height of the heroin epidemic. The move to Surry Hills immediately necessitates finding solutions to help young homeless heroin addicts, prostitution and associated health problems.
Caretakers Cottage moves from Surry Hills to Bondi. A surge in young people from across the Eastern Suburbs begin staying at the refuge.
Caretakers Cottage wins funding to develop a new program called Entity for children in state care. Increased regulation and changes to funding structures leads to crisis beds closing across Sydney. From this time on Caretakers Cottage is the provider of 10 of only 30 crisis available beds to kids aged 12-16 in the Eastern Sydney region. This continues to be the case today.
Horizons is formed, providing semi-independent accommodation for former State Wards.
Caretakers Cottage continues to expand the services it provides through a program offering semi-independent, supported living for teenagers through the Options program. Options Youth Housing began as an independent organisation in the early 1980s, and had fell under the auspices of Yfoundations in 2005, and became a subsidiary of Caretakers Cottage in 2006.
2007: The Youth Refuge's 30 Year Celebration
In 2007, Caretakers Cottage celebrated 30 years since the founding of the refuge. The event was attended by Ms. Sylvia Hale MP of the NSW Greens (Ms. Hale later reported the event to the NSW Parliament), and Mr. Malcolm Turnbull MP.
Entity Aftercare is formed to assist children and teenagers who are formerly Wards of the State with the practical life skills, getting a job, case work and ongoing support.
2012-2013: Going Home Staying Home Reforms
Caretakers responds to the major homelessness reform documented in the NSW Department of Housing Going Home Staying Home report published in 2012. Laurie Matthews speaks out on the fact the the reforms overlooked the needs of children ages 12 to 15. And Caretakers successfully wins its funding tender.
2015: Going Home Staying Home Launch
In May 2015, Caretakers Cottage formally launched its Going Home Staying Home Program which provides a comprehensive range of services for homeless youth in Eastern Sydney. The program is formed of a partnership between the Caretakers Cottage Crisis Youth Refuge, Options Youth Housing, and the Ted Noffs Foundation programs CALM, PALM, & YHS.
Caretakers Cottage continues to influence youth homelessness policy through education and advocacy.