Nicole Carlaw never gives up.
A Case Manager and Intake Worker with Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service (ONYHS), Nicole will exhaust every option in a bid to find solutions for the challenges young people face.
But sometimes even that is not enough.
“We can’t see it as a failure if we can’t break the cycle, especially if the challenges are transgenerational and embedded,’’ Nicole says.
It’s Monday morning, and Nicole is speaking at a routine ONYHS team meeting, where client assessments are presented and achievements or challenges are discussed.
Today, the focus is on a family facing eviction from community housing into homelessness, due to debt and other non-compliance issues.
For more than two years, Nicole has worked with the parents and their child, attempting to engage them – sometimes multiple times a week – and connect them to services and supports.
The family has a long history of homelessness underpinned by childhood trauma, abuse, mental health, violence and other complexities.
“The young people don’t have the same levels of maturity as those their age who have not experienced trauma, so their capacity to reflect and think logically is distorted,’’ Nicole says.
“Sometimes they have to hit rock bottom before they change but their rock bottom is different to ours; they’ve had the worst their whole lives, so this is just another day for them.’’
Amidst the family’s “deficits’’, Nicole and the team continue to search for strengths. A week later, their perseverance pays off.
The parents begin to engage. They apply for properties and bond support, reach out to mental health and start to pack their belongings. These might seem like small steps but, for this family, they are a giant leap forward.
“We cannot give up on clients,” Nicole says. “Even when we think we don’t have any more to give, if we keep going, we can see a positive change.”
From July 2018 to March this year, the Outer North Youth Homelessness Service supported 346 young people – 211 females and 135 males, aged 15 to 25.
“I’ve never had so many clients,’’ says Nicole, who is based at Nuriootpa. The ONYHS currently provides support to 24 young people in the region, compared with 14 at the same time last year.
“In Nuriootpa there’s a big gap between rich and poor. You’ve got your wineries but then you have the low income earners and third generation on Centrelink.’’
This week Nicole is urging the wider community to think harder about youth homelessness: “If people are choosing to be on the street rather than home you have to consider why that it is.
“They may be couch surfing or sleeping behind schools, or in unsafe places… You would not choose that life if you didn’t have to.’’