By Lachlan French
The crowded Cronulla Mall came to a standstill on April 10 when a mix of pensioners, school children and youths participated in ‘The Big Freeze’, a flash mob and awareness drive for Youth Homelessness Matters Day by Project Youth.
In conjunction with Jacaranda Cottage and The Bridge Youth Service, Project Youth has run an annual stall in Cronulla for the past five years to draw attention to youth homelessness and the ways in which the community can assist with the provision of services to homeless young people in the Sutherland Shire.
‘The Big Freeze’ was a flash mob event with groups of people coming to a stop for three minutes. Although appearing spontaneous to shoppers, the participants had rehearsed the three-minute stop earlier. And they held paper signs saying: ‘It’s your community. Youth Homelessness in the Shire matters!’. Participants consisted of youth workers, community members and teenagers affected by homelessness.
Aneesha Oshik, 17, who was homeless for six months, is lucky to have found a place in a refuge that has many teenage residents. “I want people to know about us and reach out to us,” she says.
Local businesses provided merchandise and vouchers to help raise money for the event.
“Anything we can do to help with youth homelessness we will support,” says Maureen Champion, of Tamarind Day Spa. Grant Fehon, of The Best Little Bookshop in Town and who donated a gift certificate, says, “We like donating to local causes and obviously youth homelessness is a big issue.”
An estimated 44,000 Australians aged under 26 are experiencing some form of homelessness. Sleeping on a friend’s couch, known as couch surfing, is the most common form of youth homelessness in the Sutherland Shire.
“A lot of people couch surfing are considered homeless so it is not an issue that the public is aware of,” says Christine Carlyon-Reed, 17, who lives in a refuge provided by Project Youth. “There is a stigma about homeless people and days like this are important to raise awareness,” she says.
Organisations such as Project Youth and The Bridge Youth Service provide assistance with housing, health and education to young people aged 16 to 24 who are at risk of homelessness.
“We work with families, schools, health, community, counselling, drug and alcohol issues, anything you can think of,” says Brian Tranter, manager of The Bridge Youth Service.
However, with limited budgets and a shortage in available housing, Project Youth is forced to turn away many young people in need.
“Last year we turned down 130 requests for accommodation,” says Leah Talipeau, a support worker with Project Youth. Ms Talipeau says the main reason for homeless among young people is the result of family breakdowns.
“A young person might not like a parent’s new partner, or there might be domestic violence or drug usage; there are so many reasons and issues.”
Much of the publicity for ‘The Big Freeze’ and Youth Homelessness Matters Day was through social media and local news. Jennifer Lane decided to attend after hearing about it at her daughter’s high school.
“We got a flyer through the school and we were talking about the reality of kids not having somewhere to live. There is so much disadvantage in the world and we wanted to show our support for the kids who don’t have as much as we do,” she says.