What’s it like trying to find solutions for young people living homeless when there are no answers? It’s tough, harrowing and requires immense creativity, says Renae Heinrich, Intake Worker and Case Manager at the Outer North Youth Homelessness Service.


It’s 11am on Friday and Renae Heinrich’s heart has already been wrung four times by young people in distress.

She takes a moment to regroup at her desk knowing she will hear more harrowing stories before day’s end.

Lately, the Intake Worker/Case Manager has been taking more than 60 calls a week from young people in crisis who have turned to Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service (ONYHS) for help.

 Sometimes it’s mum’s got a new partner, step-dad doesn’t want me there anymore, or mum and dad are drug users and the young person’s not being fed properly,’’ Renae (pictured) says.

“They might be living with someone who’s behaving really inappropriately towards them, or they’ve had a fight with their family, or they’re being financially abused.

“I’m listening to all of this thinking: they need assistance with accommodation; they’re unsafe where they are; they’ve disclosed they’ve been sexually abused and need support.

“But, at the same time, I know there’s no vacancies for them.’’

Renae is among the first voices young people hear when they reach out to ONYHS.

Based at Elizabeth, the service provides case management, early intervention, outreach, post-crisis and wait-list support to young people aged 15-25 years who are homeless or at risk of homelessness across the Playford, Gawler and Barossa regions.

Currently, the service is working with more than 100 clients but only about half of them are in supported or transitional accommodation.

“Yesterday, between emails and calls, I heard 13 different stories,’’ Renae says.

“These are highly vulnerable people with complex needs which are sometimes beyond what we can offer within the scope of our service, but where do they go?

“I try and be creative in the way that I respond, which, unfortunately at the moment, is always generally `we can’t offer you a house but how about X, Y, Z?’’

As overcrowding and the housing affordability crisis leaves increasing numbers out in the cold, and JobSeeker returns to near pre-pandemic levels – minus the remaining $150 COVID-19 supplement – Renae predicts intake will soar in the coming weeks.

Last week, as a last resort, seven clients aged between 18 and 24 years were housed in emergency motels.

“We could probably house five people every day of the week if we had properties,’’ says ONYHS Manager Tracy Ingram.

“Everybody is talking to someone we don’t have an answer for. It’s not just Centacare, it’s all the agencies in the sector across the board.

“In 20 years working in homelessness, it’s the worst I’ve seen.’’

Nationally, there are almost 120,000 Australians without a home every night – 28,000 of them are young people.

“Ten years ago we would hardly see a 15-year-old but now we are seeing them a lot, and sometimes with their younger siblings,’’ Tracy says.

“I don’t think the community understands how serious it is.’’

*Today is Youth Homelessness Matters Day an annual awareness campaign to highlight the resilience of young people experiencing homelessness and what can be done to support them.