CareSouth staff swap their bed for the couch to raise awareness of youth homelessness in the Shoalhaven

On any given night in the Shoalhaven, more than 170 young people aged 15-24 sleep rough. Many of them crash on couches, with couch surfing the most common form of youth homelessness.

April 17 was Youth Homelessness Matters Day. To raise awareness CareSouth launched its A Couch is Not a Home Campaign and asked staff and supporters to crash on a couch for the night. Dozens of people, including HMAS Albatross personnel, swapped their comfy bed for a couch to highlight the issues faced by young people who cannot live safely at home.

The campaign also allowed CareSouth to share the important work being carried out by the team from our Shoalhaven’s Youth Support Service (SYSS), the only dedicated youth homelessness service in the region.

Last month SYSS staff provided information about youth homelessness to school counsellors from across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven at a professional development day at Kanahooka High School.  School counsellors are one of the first points of contact for young people at risk of homelessness and many of the 50 staff at the event were not aware that CareSouth provided a dedicated youth support service in the region.

Last year, more than 70 homeless young people accessed the SYSS crisis accommodation service, and 50 young people received outreach support.

Young people aged 15-24 who are homeless can reach out to SYSS for help and receive up to two months of accommodation in a self-contained unit in Nowra. SYSS has also partnered with high schools and other service providers in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven to provide early intervention outreach support to young people who are at risk of becoming homeless. This early intervention service links young people with the help they need before they become homeless.

CareSouth caseworkers helped young homeless people build skills like cooking and budgeting, and provided access to education, training and employment and other support services to help them get back on their feet.

SYSS helped homeless young person feel at home

Two years ago, Dru was homeless, and he credits SYSS caseworkers with changing his life. Dru was in hospital for four months with significant physical injuries. When he was discharged, he had no safe housing to return to. A hospital social worker referred him to SYSS.

SYSS not only provided safe accommodation but also helped Dru build the skills he needed to become independent.

“I met some really special people at SYSS,” said Dru. “They created a safe, supportive space for me to recover, and the healing effect that had on me, both physically and mentally, was incredible.”

Caseworkers taught Dru how to shop, budget, cook, clean, and apply for rentals and jobs.

“SYSS didn’t just provide housing, they made me feel at home,” says Dru. “The whole program has been created so that you know you have a voice. That’s so empowering. The mentoring, motivation and connection they gave me helped me set myself up with future accommodation and work.”

Dru now has stable housing in a private rental and a job he loves.

Community supporters help raise awareness of youth homelessness

In March, CareSouth’s SYSS team shared these alarming statistics with staff from the Navy Aviation Systems Program Office (NASPO) and the Romeo Enterprise Office (REO)at HMAS Albatross. Personnel from the Navy base are big supporters of SYSS, and each year, they host a fundraising barbecue. NASPO/REO staff also donate Easter eggs to young people in the SYSS program and sell raffle tickets, with money raised used to purchase items for the homeless youth service. Last year, more than $600 was raised, and SYSS bought 12 air fryers for the self-contained units. This year, a similar amount was raised, and SYSS will buy new bedding for the rooms.

The lunch also gave SYSS the opportunity to highlight the issues faced by young homeless people. NASPO/REO staff member Lea Kyle says NASPO/REO personnel were shocked to learn the high number of young people who were homeless in the Shoalhaven.


“A lot of people were surprised to learn that couch surfing is the most common form of homelessness,” says Lea.

NASPO/REO staff were invited to take part in an activity where they constructed couches out of cardboard. SYSS staff awarded prizes for the cardboard couch with the smallest carbon footprint, most luxurious and best overall design.

While NASPO/REO staff built their cardboard couches, they also answered a thought-provoking questionnaire that dispelled many myths about homelessness, including those impacted and the factors that cause homelessness.

“The support of organisations like HMAS Albatross is invaluable in helping SYSS tackle homelessness in the region,” says CareSouth SYSS Team Leader Tony Briggs. “Activities like building cardboard houses are not only fun, but also increase community awareness of youth homelessness, while breaking down stereotypes and stigmas.”

Early intervention services key to breaking cycle of youth homelessness

“Early intervention from programs like SYSS help break the cycle of youth homelessness,” says CareSouth Shoalhaven Regional Manager Denise Hanley. “Without this service the problem will grow as the cost of living continues to rise and young people are priced out of the housing and rental markets.”

The statistics* speak for themselves:

  • In 2022-2023, more than 38,000 young people aged 15-24 sought help from a homelessness service, including SYSS.
  • In the Shoalhaven, 704 people were homeless on the night of the 2021 census; more than a quarter (170) were young people.
  • 25% of homeless young people have been in foster care, with one in three experiencing homelessness within 12 months of leaving care.
  • 50% of homeless youth have faced family conflict or violence.
  • 72% of homeless youth are disconnected from education, training and employment.*

For any young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, our SYSS program is here to help. You can learn more by calling the team at 1300 554 260 or visiting our website,

*References: Research and statistics from Nous analysis paper