Voice for homeless youth

Street Connect coordinator Esben Kaas-Sorensen [NAMES OK]
Street Connect coordinator Esben Kaas-Sorensen [NAMES OK]

‘They have been hurt for as long as they can remember,’ he said.

‘We work with disconnected youth who have been marginalised their entire lives, who have experienced abuse we could never imagine.

‘The stories we hear are horrific and it is a wonder they are still alive. Some of them aren’t.’

Mr Kaas-Sorensen, who last week won the Community Services Excellence Award for outstanding commitment by an individual, said his role was to build connections with disadvantaged young people and the wider community.

‘For me as a youth worker and an individual winner, I would never have been able to do this work if it wasn’t for the support and commitment Anglicare has towards homelessness,’ he said.

‘When we are out there as Street Connect, we build solid relationships with the young people and it makes the world of difference.

‘It is the same with other stakeholders.

‘Without being a voice for this cohort, we would have a lot more reactionary responses from statutory agencies.’

Mr Kaas-Sorensen said programs such as Street Connect, funded entirely through philanthropy and donations, were able to provide intervention for young people at critical times but ongoing funding was needed.

He said recent philanthropic donations had enabled case managers to work three days a week with the service, increasing to five days in June.

‘For an 18 or 19-year-old, it takes a long time to build up trust with the youth worker and trust to the rest of society, that there is a way out of it,’ Mr Kaas-Sorensen said.

‘They live with all the traumas they experience by being abused by families and friends and they have been let down by the systems that are meant to protect them.’

Mr Kaas-Sorensen said since 2001, when he started with working with the Anglicare service, he had seen a reduction in young people in the city, particularly young Aboriginal people.

But he said this was not an indication of improved outcomes for young people at risk, rather a result of move-on notices.

‘It was used a lot as a blanket solution to the antisocial issues in the city,’ Mr Kaas-Sorensen said. ‘With the kinship that goes around in our Aboriginal community, if you start pushing out the elders, the mums and dads, the children will follow. I see young people being pushed out all the time.’

Mr Kaas-Sorensen said he had seen an emerging trend with at-risk youth using synthetic drugs, which was particularly problematic because the effects were unknown.

‘Emergency departments don’t know how to deal with it because there isn’t any research and what there is they are taking keeps changing,’ he said. ‘It is a new epidemic that we are standing in front of and it is only going to get worse.’

The reward for his work was changing the course of young lives, even in a small way.

– East Perth St Bartholomew’s House was also recognised for outstanding achievement for raising awareness of community services at the Community Services Awards for its Homeless for a Day campaign.