Being roughly one year into my job, I was very excited when Tracy asked me to join the team at the annual DVNSW conference. This is a 2 day conference where everyone who works with domestic and family violence and homelessness comes together to share knowledge, ideas and ways we can improve the work we do. These two days were packed and I got to meet so many inspiring people, the real ‘shakers and makers’ of this sector.
But there’s one story, or rather one panellist, that really stuck with me.
It was the story of Youth Homelessness Advocate Simon Byrnes, and his experience of growing up homeless in Sydney. His journey began very young, by witnessing his mum be abused by his dad. He then went on to tell us about his own experience of sexual abuse, by a family member. The abuse began when he was 2 until 15, when he was old enough to leave.
As he was telling his story, the social worker in me pricked up, ‘Had no one tried to intervene?’, ‘Had no one seen the signs of something like this happening, to someone so young?’ He went on to say, that when he did tell a Child and Youth Worker what was happening to him, they replied: “If you can prove the abuse we can do something…”
I caught myself gasping and and so did everyone else in the audience, ‘How could a boy, so young, find proof?’
Once he was old enough to leave, he spent his teens in and out of refuges and on the streets. He was close to falling through the cracks. But he persevered, and today at age 30, he stands strong, tall and is smiling. Simon has stable housing and a stable income and is a youth homelessness advocate for all the kids who are falling between the cracks. His advice:
“Pay close attention. Listen to children and believe them. 9 times out of 10, the more deviant the child the greater their need for help is.”
Homelessness is a growing issue in Australia, and no child, youth or adult should ever have to live without a roof over their head. The reasons for being homeless are never as simple as it seems, in most cases people who experience homelessness have also experienced violence, abuse, poverty and all kinds of trauma. As the housing prices skyrocket and the national housing insecurity increases, I realise it’s never been a more important time to hear stories like Simon’s and to do the work that Simon does.
And the work that Bonnie’s does too. After this conference I felt filled to the brim with hope, knowledge and a sense of power to keep on going.
Blog by Ebbe
Image sourced via Canva