Rebecca McNicol began her social work career supporting our smallest and most vulnerable.
Not long out of university, the then-22-year-old was working in out-of-home care, nurturing young children separated from their families by the child protection system.
Stints in regional family preservation and targeted intervention followed, with a focus on providing critical in-home supports where early child wellbeing or safety risk factors had been identified.
Now a member of Centacare’s Youth and Community Support Services, Rebecca is drawing on these early experiences to support young people and adults at risk later in life.
Many are caught in generational cycles of unresolved crisis which has put them on a multi-directional path to homelessness.
“Trauma manifests in different ways,’’ Rebecca says. “Sometimes the effects of this go unnoticed but then issues come up later in life, and homelessness is usually one of them.’’
Working across Centacare’s Whyalla Generic Homelessness Service (WGHS) and Whyalla Regional Domestic Violence Service (WRDVS), Rebecca sees the full gamut of challenges facing clients aged as young as 15 and up to those in their 60s.
The cumulative effect of years of immense sadness is obvious.
“Perhaps they were removed from mum and dad, placed in Guardianship, but then they get to 18 and they’re out in the big wide world,’’ Rebecca says.
“We see them quite a few years later with pretty significant mental health and drug and alcohol issues, and their housing is one of the things that falls by the wayside.’’
Collectively, the WGHS and WRDVS worked with 543 people In 2019/2020.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness in Australia, and women fleeing unsafe households account for the majority of clients who access specialist supports.
In Whyalla, factors which precipitate homelessness are compounded by limited public transport, Rebecca says, which makes it difficult for many people to access the supports they need. To overcome this barrier, Centacare provides transport assistance to clients.
“No day is the same,’’ Rebecca says. “Sometimes it is really, really difficult, particularly with the domestic violence, and then the people who have just had a challenging hand in life.
“Obviously things can creep up and shock you more than other cases but, for the most part, taking an empathetic approach and perhaps offering an apology – saying sorry that they are upset – that’s huge for some clients.
“At the end of the day being able to offer someone a house so they feel safe and have a roof over their head, that’s a pretty awesome feeling.’’
Rebecca attributes her strong sense of social justice, and her drive to help others less fortunate, to her family’s caring influence.
“My dad worked in the public service with young offenders in maximum security detention centres. He was a youth worker and is now a minister. We travelled all over Australia for Dad’s work which brought about a richness to our life in seeing different things.
“My oldest sister is a social worker, and my other two sisters are in the health field, so we are definitely a family of helpers!’’
*It’s Homelessness Week (August 2-8), a national campaign to raise awareness of the experiences and challenges faced by people living homeless. This year the theme is Everybody Needs a Home. Even before COVID-19, almost 120,000 people had no place to call home each night. Today, many more Australians are currently unemployed, facing rental stress and the possibility of losing their home.