Naomi* had just started her final, and most important, year of school when she found herself homeless. The 17-year-old was being subjected to verbal and physical abuse in the family home and her psychologist, who was treating her for bipolar and anxiety disorder, deemed it unsafe for her to remain in the house.

Naomi is one of 28,000 Australians, aged 12-25, who has experienced homelessness. A recent Youth Week campaign to raise awareness of homelessness amongst young people found 70% left home to escape family violence, child abuse or family breakdown.

Fortunately Naomi was referred to CareSouth’s Shoalhaven Youth Support Services (SYSS) short-term Residential Program, which offers up to eight weeks accommodation for 16-24 year olds from the Shoalhaven LGA. Naomi was linked in with SYSS caseworker Ash McHugh who worked with Naomi on creating a case plan and identifying her goals. Having the support of SYSS empowered Naomi and she was able to build on her existing skills of independence and resilience.

“Naomi was in Year 12 and about to begin her HSC at a local private school,” said Ash. “It was a stressful time and she needed a safe place to stay while studying and continuing to get the support she needed for the complex issues she faced.

“Naomi stayed at SYSS for eight weeks and from there was given the opportunity to move into the SYSS transitional property, which has the possibility of up to a 12 month lease, so that she had a more permanent place to stay while she focused on her studies. Once Naomi had moved in the transitional property, she was supported by SYSS via the Outreach Program, which gives young people up to 12 months case management.”

Ash and Naomi continued to work closely with the Community Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Naomi’s school and private psychologist and specialised domestic violence support services to ensure that Naomi had all the specialised support she needed to gain her HSC.

“Naomi took every opportunity thrown her way,” said Ash. “She maintained her school attendance and showed up to all her medical appointments. She joined extracurricular activities at SYSS such as yoga and nutrition workshops so she was focused and knew how to feed her mind and body. Naomi grew in confidence at SYSS and built some really strong, positive relationships with both staff and other residents.”

Naomi graduated from high school last year. She is continuing her studies on her pathway to university and has found stable, private rental accommodation.

“SYSS drastically changed my life in many ways,” said Naomi. “Everybody needs a space to call their own. A space you can go to think, to not be bothered, or to completely forget about the world. Not having somewhere to live is the biggest weight on your chest. It follows you everywhere. It never leaves your mind.”

“During my exam period my caseworker Ash found me crying because of how stressed I was. I was working two eight hour shifts on the weekends as well as going to school full-time. She sat down with me and assured me that school is not the be-all-and-end-all and that stressing myself out wouldn’t help anything. The only thing you can do is your absolute best, which is why my only goal for my HSC exam was to beat my trial results, which were quite low to begin with. Find a personal goal, not a goal that was set by someone else.

“If it wasn’t for CareSouth there is absolutely no way I would have completed Year 12, let alone taken the HSC exam. I would have moved in with my grandma six hours south in a small rural town. If I had moved away from all of my friends and the home town I’d lived in for 14 years, I never would have worked up the courage to go to school and make new friends, especially in the last year of school.

“After the HSC I wanted to take some time to get some practical things organised. I got my driver’s license, saved up for a car, picked up more shifts at work and moved out of CareSouth into a private rental. Because of the added stress during Year 12 my ATAR was nowhere near what it needed to be. But UOW College has a STEP (Special Tertiary Entrance Program) program for students who suffered disadvantages. Completing the Step program gives automatic entry into most UOW bachelor’s degrees, which is where I hope to complete a bachelor of Nursing and possibly one day a doctorate of medicine.”

*not her real name.