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Sam came into the Youthline Auckland Central Centre because he was cold, tired and lonely.
A few days before, he and his mum had a fight about doing the dishes. It ended the way arguments at his place often ended - his mum's boyfriend hit him until he blacked out. When he woke up, he left.
"I'm scared," he said.
"I don't have anywhere to go. I don't feel safe at home and I can't go back there."
Sam had spent the past few days sleeping rough, trying to come up with a plan. It had been raining hard, and he was soaking wet. His voice cracked while he was telling me about his tumultuous relationship with his mum. He couldn't think of anyone who would help him, and even with his staunch attitude, he couldn't hide his distress.
We talked about his unstable home life, where he could go and where he went last time. I struggled to put myself in his position. It's hard to stay positive while imagining the loneliness, isolation and helplessness in a situation like this.
The street isn't a safe place for a seventeen year old.
Last time this happened, Sam slept at his friends place for a few days, but he couldn't stay there forever. He ended up sleeping in the doorway of an office building. He joined the hundreds of other people in Auckland who sleep rough every night. Many of them have stories similar to Sam's. Without support from parents, family, friends, school and the community, they have limited options.
Transient youth are often stereotyped as troublemakers who don't want to live by their parents rules, but no young person chooses to live on the streets. While they speak of the decision to sleep rough as a choice, so often it's because of a lack of other options. Many come from backgrounds with very limited access to the basic we take for granted. Sometimes they have been forced out of their home, or, like Sam, they have fled because it's a safer alternative to the neglect, violence and abuse they face at home.
They are just scared and vulnerable young people in incredibly tough situations.
At Youthline, we provide support to all young people who need it. Sometimes it's through a phone call on our Helpline, sometimes we're approached at a school, and sometimes a young person will wander into one of our Centres with nowhere else to go. Finding emergency accommodation is the starting point, but these young people need the alongside support that Youthline provides as well. Our Youth Workers are the ones who stand next to young people like Sam - link them to agencies, provide ongoing support, help them transition into education or employment, and spend time working through the stuff they are facing in their lives. Having someone to help out with things like getting financial aid without a permanent address, or finding a place to have a hot shower, can make a big difference.
Several times a week young people in similar circumstances come into our Centres and ask for help. Many of the temporary accommodation options that are available for adults are unsuitable for youth, especially young women. Through our community networks, we are fortunate to have limited links to safe youth accommodation, but it is always extremely challenging. Sometimes it can take weeks for financial aid to begin, and in the interim, young people are extremely vulnerable. This is where having support from a wrap-around provider like Youthline can be vital.
Sam chose to come to Youthline because he'd heard on the streets that we help young people get back on their feet. He worked alongside one of our Youth Workers who stood by him while he found accommodation, supported him to receive the Youth Benefit while looking for a job, and provided links to other support agencies. Although his relationship with his mum isn't where he wants it to be, they attend counselling together and are spending more time with each other.
He still meets with his Youth Worker regularly - the one person who has his back when he needed it the most.
It doesn't take much to make a difference. We want to give every young person who comes to us access to the services they need, which is why we need your help. A donation of $30 will provide a transient young person with initial support from a Youthline Youth Worker, $60 will buy a young person food for a week, and $120 will give a young person a safe place to sleep.