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Homeless youths reconnect

MercyCare outreach workers are helping hundreds of Perth youths turn the tide on homelessness.

On Youth Homelessness Matters Day on 13 April, MercyCare Reconnect coordinator Lisa Brown said more youths were accessing services at a younger age, compared to a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, the average age of young people who were at-risk of homelessness was 15,” said Ms Brown. “Now we are working with more who are as young as 12 and 13.”

MercyCare Reconnect is an early intervention outreach support service to assist young people aged between 12 and 18 who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness to reconcile with their families where possible.

Last year, MercyCare Reconnect helped 220 youths and their families, with many interventions resulting in reconciliations, more stable living arrangements and better engagement with education and their community.

Ms Brown said young people and their families were referred to Reconnect for a variety of reasons including to repair parent-child relationships, drug and alcohol issues, mental health, truancy, bullying and social media addiction. Parenting skills and strategies are also offered.

“Most young people don’t choose to be homeless,” she said. “Many see it as a last resort and an escape because they can see no way out of their problems.

“At times there can be conflict in the home because of rules and expectations, while at other times the conflict or issues are outside the young person’s control.

“Conflict in the home affects a broad cross-section of the community. It doesn’t just affect those in low socio-economic areas, but also extends to wealthy families and parents who work professional jobs. No family is immune.”

MercyCare Reconnect, which has been operating for 18 years in Perth, helps families across the metropolitan area from Two Rocks to Rockingham and Armadale to Morley.

Ms Brown said case workers were closely linked to schools and school support staff who identified young people in need of assistance, counselling and mediation.

“We explore all alternatives. Our number one aim is to have the young person return home and where that’s not possible we try to stabilise their living arrangements, whether that’s living with parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles or friends,” she said.

18-year-old Adrian Do Santos said MercyCare Reconnect and his case worker Sheryl Naidoo helped him after he ran away from home while completing Year 12 last year.

“The tension with my parents had really started to affect me and my school work. In the end, I had enough so I left,” he said.

“At the time I was bitter with my parents and not really interested in going home but Sheryl helped me see the bigger picture and I was able to reconcile with my parents and I went home after a couple of months.”

Adrian is now studying screen production at Murdoch University.

Reconnect is a free, confidential service funded by the Department of Social Services. Referrals can be made by calling 1800 800 046.