Renae Heinrich is the first voice young people hear when they reach out to Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service for help. As Intake & Assessment Worker, Renae provides on-the-spot referral, advice and other information over the phone to clients, based on their presenting challenges. Time is of the essence for Renae as she draws on 15 years of experience in community services to offer hope and understanding.
We provide a service of some description to every single person that calls. Most people who ring are in crisis or they’re stressed about their situation.
Some days it can be overwhelming because it’s just so busy; I literally pick up and put down the phone and it’s ringing again. It can go on like that all day, sometimes for several days in a row, even weeks.
I always feel like I have to be one step ahead in finding an answer or solution when, unfortunately, there isn’t always one available.
Even though it might not always be the response the young person is hoping for, I try and plant little seeds. One tiny piece of information I might give them may lead to other things changing, so it’s like a domino effect.
Beyond the person, there are other criteria and situations and circumstances that might mean we are not the best service for them. That can be hard for a young person to understand when they’re in crisis, and sometimes they don’t take it that well. But most of the young people I speak to are grateful and just so happy to be talking to someone who can help.
Some of their stories are heartbreaking. I think you learn to have those self-care barriers and boundaries in place because, if you didn’t, you would become overwhelmed by it all. Supervision, debriefing and informal support from the team is so important in these types of roles because you would just go home and cry every night otherwise.
It can be difficult not knowing the outcomes. If a young person is living in a motel for a long period of time and they are ringing the service two or three times a week, you build up a rapport with them. But then they get a case manager or they move on to another service… I often wonder what’s happened for them.
I know the team do an amazing job when they go past the assessment and motel phase, so I know they are in good hands.
There are a lots of good parts and happy moments amongst the sadness. I tend not to look at the big picture and just take all the little steps that I can in between to get someone the solution they need.
My inspiration hasn’t changed over the years. I started out wanting to create change and give people a voice when they didn’t always have one.