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.

In late 2020, Sam* had been discharged from the Emergency Department following a severe family violence incident. She knew she couldn’t go back home but having just turned 17-years-old she felt extremely limited in where else she could even go.

She wound up sleeping on a friend’s Auntie’s couch, and on weekends would crash at another friend’s place. This felt much safer to her than going home, but it was starting to cause heightened stress and increased anxiety. She knew she couldn’t keep it up over the long term.

Sam remembered one of her friends from Westmeadows mentioning a youth service that would meet people in safe places and decided to reach out. That service was YHOP.

After a brief chat on the phone with one of our Senior YHOP Coaches, we quickly developed a safety plan and identified immediate support services that Sam needed. First and foremost, her personal safety was our team’s number one priority.

“Ensuring her safety was at the core of our work together and achieving this means that she can move forward with her life, without constant worries around her well-being. Safety is a basic human right, that we should all be entitled to” shared the Senior YHOP Coach working with Sam. 

We linked Sam up with our Off the Couch initiative (an intervention initiative for young people aged 17 - 25 years who are, or at risk of, experiencing homelessness in the LGAs of Hume and Moreland) on the same day she contacted us so that she could be prioritised as Urgent for housing services through our friends at VincentCare.

Due to the strict lockdown in Melbourne at the time, these services were much busier than normal and it took a few days for the intake to actually take place.

During that same first day we met Sam, we contacted Kangan’s Education First Youth Foyer. Although the Foyer team were quick to facilitate Sam’s referral and mentioned that she’d be a perfect fit, they were unable to confirm a spot for her due to her mental health over the previous 2 months. The Education First Youth Foyer has strict policies, including a young person being free from mental health barriers for 6 months before they are eligible to reside in the Foyer.

Over the following days, YHOP attempted to reach out to multiple housing and mental health services but sadly many advised us that Sam wasn’t eligible because she was too “high risk or severe” whilst others said that she “wasn’t severe enough” to access their supports.

Most housing support services were at capacity or were unable to take on new young people during Covid-19, so we discussed the possibility of living in a private rental share house. Sam wasn’t comfortable living with strangers and felt she still needed extra support going into independent living – which we completely understood.

Sam was extremely distressed by this, so we reassured her that we wouldn’t stop until we got her somewhere safe and secure.

Sam’s Senior YHOP Coach reflected on the severity of the situation, “the housing and mental health support systems are incredibly complex and challenging to navigate. Even for those of us in YHOP who are highly skilled and knowledgeable in this area, it takes a huge investment of time, energy, resilience and patience. It’s illogical to think that a vulnerable young person, who is experiencing complex barriers, would be able to navigate this independently.”

After almost a whole week, VincentCare completed a comprehensive intake assessment. Over this same period, Sam’s couch surfing situation broke down further, and she was forced to stay on a third friend’s couch.

Our YHOP team highlighted the complex and vulnerable situation that Sam was experiencing, and the importance of responsive intervention, with VincentCare and she was allocated an Aboriginal Youth Housing Case Manager who was able to connect her to the Margaret Tucker Youth Hostel.

Sam was distressed and terrified at the thought of staying in a ‘refuge’, so our team met with Sam to dispel the myths of refuges and letting her know about the extensive supports that she would have direct access to at the hostel. We also facilitated a chat with the VincentCare and the youth refuge team so Sam could ask all her questions and make her own informed decision. By the end of that call, she felt comfortable enough to stay there.

Sam was now in a safe place – free from physical harm or family violence.

From there, our YHOP Coaches met with, and spoke to Sam on a weekly basis to develop an individualised mentoring and support plan with attainable goals for the next 6 months.

Some of these goals included:

  • Finding stable accommodation so she could concentrate on finishing school and know that she is safe
  • Get a Mental Health Care Plan and start seeing a psychologist to improve her mental health
  • Have regular check-ins with our YHOP team to ensure her safety plan was working and she was clear on the steps to take when she was struggling
  • Get an Intervention Order put in place
  • To re-connect with her younger siblings who she was close to and were still at home
  • Work towards being financially independent and access Centrelink payments
  • Get a new laptop so she could finish school during lockdown and not fall further behind

Our Senior YHOP Coach reflected on Sam’s experience over the past few months, “although this has been a complex situation to navigate for Sam, her resilience, strength and positive mindset has shone through.”

Youth Law was able to support Sam with the appropriate Intervention Order and her Senior YHOP Coach regularly consulted with Sam's Transition to Work Coach to offer further support and coaching with her schooling.

We then worked with headspace to get Sam extra support from an Enhanced Care Coordinator, arranged supervised visits with her younger siblings through child protection services, and supported her to start family counselling.

“YHOP has helped me improve my mental health, helped build my confidence, supported me to go back to school and improved my independence. There’s nothing too big or too small they can’t do. I’m so glad I reached out to them.”

Sam is now five months free of suicidal ideation and self-harm, and is almost eligible to re-apply for the Kangan’s Education First Youth Foyer, and most importantly – is safe, supported and optimistic about her future.  

Sam shared with us that she, “couldn’t do it without you YHOP - my life is so good at the moment and I’m even doing counselling with my family to make my situation better.”

We could not be prouder of Sam’s courage, her strength and resilience, and the positive mindset she’s created.

Help us continue providing high impact support services for young people who need us most by donating today.

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. 

*We've used a pseudo name out of respect for keeping this person's identity private