Sarah, 20, has faced more challenges than most young people her age, but she has a good feeling about what lies ahead.
Sarah was only ten years old when her mother died and was sent to live with relatives after her father could no longer care for her and her twin sister.
She spent the next seven years in and out of different homes before finding her way to The Haven on the outskirts of Toowoomba.
Operated by YellowBridge QLD, the live-in facility provides supported accommodation for young people experiencing homelessness. For Sarah and her sister, it was their last option.
“They were really great to us. They let us both live there and supported me to finish school,” Sarah said.
After 18 months at The Haven, Sarah was ready to move into independent housing, but found the private rental market daunting and unsympathetic to young people in her situation.
Then came her lucky break.
YellowBridge received a $220,000 grant from Hand Heart Pocket the Charity of Freemasons Queensland to launch its Youth Matters program with the goal to provide a bed for every young person experiencing homelessness in Toowoomba by 2025.
The funding allows YellowBridge to head-lease eight two-bedroom units, providing accommodation for 16 young people who are supported by a full-time case worker.
To her relief and delight, Sarah was offered a place in one of the units. She has now been there for five months and is very happy.
“It is amazing to have my own place and know that I don’t have to worry about the lease ending and then struggling to find somewhere else to live. It is reassuring to know that I have a little part of my life that is okay, and I’m going to be okay,” Sarah said.
“The people at The Haven and in the Youth Matters program are amazing. They have dedicated a lot of hours to me and tried really hard to help me. It is amazing the amount of effort they go to and how much they care,” she said.
YellowBridge chief executive officer Adrian Bonica said ending youth homelessness was a community-wide responsibility that required support from the private and public sectors.
“We need to take youth homelessness seriously. Toowoomba’s 11 beds for homeless youth are always full so most of these young people have nowhere to go,” Mr Bonica said.
“Sometimes it can be triggered by a traumatic event or contributed to by poverty, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, addiction, disability and mental illness.”
Young people experiencing homelessness are less likely to complete their education, find secure employment, get access to housing and forge healthy habits and relationships.
Without the right support, many will struggle with homelessness for the rest of their lives and be adversely impacted by the emotional, social and physical challenges of it.
“Everyone in society suffers from the impacts of not addressing youth homelessness,” Mr Bonica said.
“We know from experience and working in this area for many years that early intervention works.
“Providing a safe place to live and assistance to finish their education, get a driver’s licence, find a job or training and learn life skills can turn young lives around.”
Sarah looks after herself with the money she earns from her part-time job and is keen to continue her studies.
“I love caring for people. I want to help as many people as I can. I am considering studying a Certificate III in Individual Support to become a disability support worker, or potentially aged care or youth support.”
“I am feeling really proud of myself and confident that I can have a good future, that I can fall and I can get back up again.”
Photo: Sarah was offered a place in one of the units. She has now been there for five months and is very happy.