19-year-old Saphire is thinking about the future of her younger siblings, a brother aged 16 and a sister, 13. “I hope they can finish TAFE and school and get good jobs. And get their license!”
For Saphire, planning the future for her family is no abstract exercise. For the last few months, she has been a part-time head of house for her little household of three.
It’s a lot of responsibility for a young person. “There are sometimes when it’s tough but there are other times when it’s more rewarding,” says Saphire. After a pause, she adds, “…there are the times when I think ‘why do I have to do this?’”
Saphire has come a long way in the last few years. Halfway through year 10, domestic violence, parental drug and alcohol problems found her without somewhere safe to call home. In the months that followed Saphire struggled to find secure accommodation and she had to take a break from school.
Through a person she knew, Saphire was referred to Connecting Home, a Social Futures program that supports people to find stable housing. After a short stay in a hotel, she was placed in transitional, or temporary housing.
It was here that Saphire met Connecting Home Youth program worker Lucie. Lucie set about finding some options for Saphire that were more sustainable.
“Our priority, the goal we like to work towards is bringing families together,” explains Lucie White of Connecting Home Youth, “but in cases like Saphire’s it’s not always possible. When that happens, we can look to programs like the Rent Choice Youth Subsidy”.
The subsidy, an initiative of the Department of Communities and Justice, helps young people afford to move into the private rental market by subsidising some of the rent.
Saphire was able to secure a house through a local agent and her brother and sister were able to join her to continue their education. Their mother now also visits regularly.
“Finding stable and secure housing is not, in itself, going to solve the kinds of problems Saphire was facing. But without a stable place to call home, it’s incredibly difficult for young people to develop the skills they need to navigate in the community,” says Lucie.
Housing affordability is a major issue in Australia. According to the Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot, out of 74,266 rental listings posted in April, none were affordable for people on the Youth Allowance. Just three were affordable to people on Job Seeker. In the Northern Rivers, the situation is even more acute, with the rate of rental properties available (at any level of income) at record lows.
In such a competitive market, finding landlords and real estate agents willing to even consider a young person for housing is a challenge.
“Of the 20 young people housed through the Rental Choices Youth program in Lismore, only one young person was able to find housing on their own,” explains Lucie. Instead, she and the team from Social Futures work to build relationships with estate agents through regular calls and visits. Given their knowledge of the participants, they can make recommendations to the agents that carry weight.
Despite the instability in her home life, Saphire completed her leaving certificate at TAFE and went on to gain her CERT III in child care. And now, after attending a course with ETC, an employment services group, she was offered the chance to become a full-time trainee. It’s this kind of determination that convinced Lucie that she would be a good candidate for the rental choices program.
“We are looking for someone who has shown they can maintain a property and has shown willingness to look for training or a job,” she explains.
Lucie says Saphire can be proud of where she is, “She’s shown amazing growth and has come so far. I’ve seen her grow up over the last couple of years and it has been a privilege to be a part of that.”
Another Social Futures program, Opportunity Pathways, has been supporting Saphire as well, including paying for driving lessons. Saphire also has regular chats with a counsellor from the Social Futures youth program, Elements.
Saphire’s grit, along with the support of Social Futures has given her the chance to fulfill her own ambitions. “In ten years I want to have a full-time job and be saving a lot. I do want to buy a house, rather than rent,” she says. “I’m very happy we are where we are now, compared to a few years ago.”
For more about Connecting Home see: https://socialfutures.org.au/homelessness-2/connecting-home-2/
“She’s shown amazing growth and has come so far. I’ve seen her grow up over the last couple of years and it has been a privilege to be a part of that.”