[CONTENT WARNING: This story discusses family violence, mental health and suicide. For confidential help with family and domestic violence, please call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. If this story raises any issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.]

At times, Natalie didn’t know who to reach out or talk to when she was really struggling with her home life. For as long as Natalie can remember, her mother manipulated and controlled her every movement. Natalie constantly felt vulnerable and the threat of being kicked out of home or physically hurt constantly loomed and impacted every aspect of her life.

“I barely went out. My mum restricted me from socialising and having relationships with people. I was allowed out maybe once every three months.”

“It affected my relationships because I kept thinking what would happen if I do go out and something goes wrong. I was questioning whether I was even worthy, and I was really scared.”

Natalie reflects on her mum being very strong-willed, but also very aggressive. The verbal aggression was constant, but the physical aggression only ever occurred when her mum was intoxicated. She usually didn’t even recall what she'd even said or done to Natalie the next day.

Whenever Natalie tried to talk to her mother about what was happening, Natalie was usually fobbed off by comments like “what did you say that made me so aggravated then?

During those times, Natalie didn’t know who to talk to (or even trust). She tried opening up to a counsellor at her school at one point, but they contacted her mum and things escalated.

“I would come late to school because mum would be drinking the night before and she’d get really aggressive.”

On the other side of her days, Natalie would be terrified of going home from school – knowing what she’d be walking into. “I’m pretty close with my brother, but by the time he’d get home from work, it’d already be too late – it would have already happened, and she’d be gone to bed.”

As hard as Natalie tried, things weren’t improving. It got to a point where her mum was using a GPS tracker on Natalie’s phone to follow her every movement.

Earlier last year, Natalie bought herself a second-hand car and thought, "at least if I do run away, I have a car." But during that same week, Natalie’s car had to be repaired and her mother took the car. Then it hit her - without a car, how could she get out?

It was at an incredibly dark crossroads that Natalie found herself feeling that there were only two options for her: to run away from home, or to end it all.

“I contacted Beyond Blue and told them over the phone that I’d taken too many pills and wanted to end it all.”

The police were immediately dispatched to Natalie’s location, and arrived before it was too late. As Natalie was coming back to, she was trying to signal to the police to leave before her mother got home for fear of what aggression would come her way. Natalie was so apologetic to the police, but at the same time so fearful of her mother.

In that moment, Natalie thought, “if they take me away, I’ll never see my family again. But, if I stay, I won’t be safe.

Days later, Natalie made the decision to leave home – she had no other option.

At six in the morning, she grabbed a backpack and got her brother to drop her at the local train station. He was worried for Natalie’s safety, but knew that being at home was not safe for her. He told her, “(that) everything is going to be alright, just tell me where you go”. Then, she left.

Natalie ended up contacting a friend from high school that she hadn’t spoken to in about three years and asked if she could stay on her couch for a week until Natalie was able to sort out her situation.

“I was so surprised! She replied so quickly and didn’t hesitate to help me.”

Her friend from school knew about the problems with Natalie’s home life and what her mum was capable of. Knowing that she wasn’t alone in this situation – knowing that there were other young people in the same scenario that were escaping family violence – Natalie broke down in tears. She was so relieved and grateful for her old friend.

Natalie considered having to do dodgy jobs that she came across on Gumtree and Facebook where they give you a room and you just work to earn your keep. She was really desperate and didn’t want to be a burden on her friend or stay couch surfing for any longer than she needed to.

Throughout last year, Natalie had all of her work hours cut as a result of the pandemic restrictions and wasn’t eligible for JobKeeper because of her cross-pacific citizenship. She was left with zero income.

Natalie wasn’t able to access support from a number of welfare services because her rent was deemed “too high”. The criteria stipulated that her (and her partner’s) combined rent could only be up to 50% of their combined income – theirs was just under 55%. They were told that it wasn’t sustainable.

Their only option was to find a new place within two weeks – which, somehow, they did (which is usually pretty much unheard).

Fortunately, she heard about an organisation called ours which helped other young people in her situation. Natalie started working with our YHOP team and was initially just eager to find employment, but that soon changed as Youth Projects started sourcing funding to help them move into a new place and provided linkages to other wrap around supports.

Natalie found it extremely difficult to have to prove that she was a survivor of family violence to every social service she contacted, especially because she didn’t see herself as a “victim”. She kept trying to push it aside because every time she had to relive it, it would bring her to tears.

“I was trying to put it behind me and get a new house, and just trying to survive so it was hard when I had to keep telling it over and over again just to try and get help.”

Her YHOP Coach recognised her potential and passion and referred her into the Virtual Employability Skills Training program. 

Natalie worked alongside a Youth Employability Skills Coach to help her develop the skills and confidence she needed to re-enter the workforce. The coach supported her to identify her strengths and personal attributes, and market these to employers. Throughout the program Natalie learned to tailor her resume and cover letter to businesses she wanted to apply for, prepare for job interviews (including mock interview practice) and access the ‘hidden job market’ (e.g. through cold calling, networking). 

“I like Youth Projects, and after knowing someone who was with you guys for a while I know I can trust you.”

Youth Projects could see how motivated Natalie was to succeed, and to find meaningful employment. She demonstrated this by applying for multiple roles – and even dropped in to have lunch (and introduce herself) after sending cafes her resume.

Natalie got called for two interviews in one week and was offered both roles! She is now working back toward full time hours as COVID restrictions start to lift on the hospitality industry. 

“I have started working at a 90s-themed café and to be honest I love it! The new job has given me a lot of new experiences and has allowed me to develop my skills working in the hospitality industry. Working in this new role and developing my customer service skills has helped me boost my confidence."

"They have even given me a nickname already, and I like that – it makes me feel like I can have a fresh start. I'm happy to be able to have the opportunity to work with such amazing staff and I'm glad I made so many friends along the way.” 

It is not possible to estimate the number of young people who were homeless due to domestic and family violence because this information isn't collected in Census data. But, according to the Youth Affairs Council Victoria’s 2020 report Ending Youth Homelessness, at least 6,000 young people are experiencing homelessness and there are more than 50,000 applications currently on the social housing waiting list in Victoria alone.

Natalie’s story is a poignant reminder that our service system in Victoria needs immediate improvements to ensure the safety and security young people desperately need.

If this story raises any issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or for confidential help with family and domestic violence, please call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. 

Help us continue providing high impact support services for young people across Melbourne by donating to Youth Projects today.