Having been homeless on and off since the age of 15, Illawarra teenager Blake Parry has couch surfed, and slept in shopping centres and abandoned houses.
“(The hardest part) is probably being alone, not knowing what you're doing - literally having no clue about the future at all,” the 19-year-old said.
“Not knowing what you're going to eat, having to steal all the time to eat. And literally knowing everyone looks at you like a certain type of person just because of the way you look, or the things that you've had to do.”
He cites family circumstances for initially becoming homeless, and also stayed in a share house.
“I’ve applied for I’d say close to a hundred houses in the past month, and nothing.''
He’s been a Southern Youth and Family Services client for about six months, and is now living in community housing in Fairy Meadow and working as a builders' labourer.
“I want to start an apprenticeship, eventually run my own business and have a house. Without SYFS I probably wouldn't have a job now. I would probably be just doing the same thing, living day by day. At least now I live week by week like everyone else,” he laughed.
Recently released 2016 Census figures indicated that of the total of 37,715 homeless people in NSW, 2677 were aged 12-18.
Also, 6365 were aged 19-24, and 8715 were aged 25 to 34. Also, 15,010 were female.
ALLISON*, 16, WAS 13 when she went into foster care for a brief stint, before going into her aunt’s care.
After later couch surfing for three months, she was connected with SYFS and went into crisis accommodation about three weeks ago. She's currently doing her HSC, undertaking a traineeship in aged care and aspires to have her own place and regular work.
“I still think that going to school, it was my responsibility to keep that going,” she said. “I just feel happy. I don't feel like I have something on my shoulders.”
Narelle Clay, CEO of SYFS said they were seeing increased incidences of young people who are unable to acquire income, either via work or Centrelink.
“Even those that are able to get some work, they’re only getting casual work. So it’s short-term, insecure and often doesn’t pay well… And because it’s insecure they can’t get secure housing, or if they do they eventually get evicted because they can’t get casual work for a few fortnights and then can’t pay the rent.”
The Ilawarra’s rental market is also problematic for those in other demographics.
Supported Accommodation & Homelessness Services Shoalhaven Illawarra CEO Kathy Colyer said they specialised in domestic and family violence, as well as supporting women who are homeless for other reasons.
“The market for private rentals for our clients is really difficult, particularly for single women on Newstart,” she said. “It's almost impossible because of the lack of affordability, and their inability to afford the private rent that’s being asked.”
Mandy Booker, manager of Wollongong Homeless Hub said they had recently seen more families coming through the service that are either currently homeless, or at risk of homelessness, “because they just are not able to meet the (rental) payments”.
HUB CLIENTS, ILLAWARRA COUPLE, Morgan Withey, 33, and Mieke Haverkamp, 32, and four children (aged 15, four, one and three months) were mere days from being homeless.
Mr Withey, who drives trucks and does labouring jobs, is currently on stress leave from work. The changes in their situation led to them being in rent arrears.
Their Dapto rental property was eventually put up for sale, and the family were served a no-fault eviction notice that required them to vacate this week.
Ms Haverkamp receives the Family Tax Benefit, and said “you don’t ever think of yourself as becoming homeless”.
“It’s a horrible feeling to have nowhere to go.
“I’ve applied for I’d say close to a hundred houses in the past month, and nothing.
“Every place you go to there’s like a million people applying for each property.”
The Homeless Hub has located them transitional housing for 12 months.
“It’s only by chance that the property is now vacant… If we didn’t have it, they would then be homeless as of Tuesday,” Ms Booker said.
“We need a lot more affordable housing, but we don’t just need the housing to be affordable, it needs to be stable. We have a whole generation of children coming through that don’t know one year to the next where they’re going to be living.”
*Name changed by request
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