Fulltime youth refuge called for

Rebecca Solafia, a former homeless youngster, says Lismore desperately needs a fulltime youth refuge similar to a state-funded one which closed its doors several years ago.

A former homeless youth has called for a fulltime youth refuge in Lismore.

Twenty-four-year-old Lismore woman Rebecca Solafia knows what its like to be homeless and is passionate about the issue, especially the lack of such a facility in her town.

Rebecca says she would have ended up on the streets without the help of Lismores former youth refuge and service RATYS (Rural And Town Youth Service, run by the Department of Community Services, DoCS) and is sympathetic to the plight of many homeless youngsters in the Lismore area.

A recent report by the National Youth Commission Inquiry into Homeless Youth showed there were around 500 or one in 70 youngsters in the Northern Rivers who were homeless and the problem was growing by the day.

The alarming statistic prompted Rebecca to speak out about what she sees is a lack of a fulltime youth refuge in Lismore and the Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) has called for urgent action to address the problem.

Community Connections North Coast (CCNC), a federal and state funded non-profit organisation, offers some different options for young people needing accommodation in the Lismore area.

But Rebecca said the service is limited, in that it caters for short-to-mediumterm stays for homeless youth and you have to make an appointment.

CCNC general manager Margie Hill agreed young people had to make an appointment because it was an intake process and we need to establish the needs of a young person first. Its not just about whacking them into a home but about how we can help them to a more stable lifestyle and environment.

I wouldnt necessarily support a youth refuge framework as you need to look at different models to meet individual needs, rather than one size fits all, Ms Hill said.

She said CCNC had three layers of accommodation on offer: a brokerage or short-term program to house youth aged 16-21 in caravan parks or motels; medium-term housing for six months or longer for those aged 16-18; and on-site crisis accommodation for up to three nights for 12-15 year olds with referrals from DoCS.

CCNC also offered other support services such as counselling, she said.

When Rebecca was a 15-year-old, she left home feeling depressed and suicidal.

I guess you could call it religious persecution. I was raised a Jehovahs Witness and it was getting too much and I couldnt deal with it, I wanted to be myself and didnt want too much judgement and crap in my life, she said.

So I spent almost five months all up in the former youth refuge in town called RATYS, a drop-in centre, youth service and refuge it was a place where I could chill out, play ping pong, and it was just in town, we got free transport, counselling services, food and you didnt need to make an appointment.

It was all diverse too, so the Kooris came over and everyone was welcome. A youth worker or counsellor was available day and night it was a place where you could sit down have a cigarette and a yarn and they werent judgmental it was just a very genuine service.

Young people in crisis need somewhere to stay for a while, they need help its not fair on them as its not their fault, just their circumstances it gets quite up my nose.

Too bad if they cant get Centrelink payments, too bad if you have emotional problems and cant find suitable, cheap accommodation, especially with all the affordable housing problems in Lismore.

When I was in the refuge, it took me three-and-a-half months to get youth payments and I had legitimate reasons why and if not for the help of the youth service/refuge Id be on the streets.

When I first went in, I was non-smoking and non-swearing because I was raised as a Jehovahs Witness, so I was a bit too innocent and when I first swore, the youth workers joked that it (the refuge) has worn off on me it was a classic.

Unfortunately that refuge has been closed now for years so where is there a youth service for our young people now? The nearest fulltime refuge is in Byron Bay or Coffs Harbour, which is pathetic as a young person in crisis shouldnt have to be travelling away from their home town

If I won Lotto Id build it myself and it would have room for four permanents and two emergency cases they genuinely need it.

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