By ROBERT CRAWFORD
FIRST there were tears over Shoalhaven Youth Accommodation missing out on funding under the state government’s Going Home Staying Home tender reform.
That emotion, which overtook its staff after Friday’s announcement, has now grown to anger with manager Kerri Snowden saying the organisation will not go down without a fight.
For 30 years SYA has battled the growing problem of youth homelessness in the Shoalhaven.
In Friday’s announcement, the youth accommodation tender was awarded to CareSouth, while the Shoalhaven Women’s Refuge also lost its funding to the Illawarra Women’s Homelessness and Domestic and Family Violence Support Service.
“I’m really at a loss,” Ms Snowden said.
“We’re not going to cop it.
“We were told during the briefings into the reform that some small services would survive. This hasn’t been about reform, this has been about consolidation.
“Virtually all the small services are gone and the youth sector seems to be the hardest hit across the state.
“We should have been told how hard that axe would fall.”
She said the amount of support the service had received over the weekend was amazing.
“My phone rang hot with people calling to show support,” she said.
“Current clients, former clients, other providers, we have been inundated.
“On Friday we were all emotional about the announcement, now we are just angry.
“We had no warning whatsoever this was going to happen on Friday – the department just rang up and said, ‘Sorry you have been unsuccessful’.
“How dare they. We can’t appeal the decision and they tell us they will give us feedback on the tender process – gee, thanks, that’s going to be a lot of good.
“It is just an example of the ruthless process that has been used.
“I’d like the minister to come here and see the fall out.
“They forget they make decisions in the stroke of a pen that affect people’s lives.
“It is just a job to them, they don’t consider the impacts on people.”
SYA provides nine beds and accommodation for homeless youth. That housing has now been awarded to the new family tender.
“We will have to hand over the accommodation that currently houses homeless youth,” Ms Snowden said.
“What are we going to do with our clients?
“We won’t be turfing them out on the streets.
“We hope in the next four to six weeks we might be able to find them some private rental accommodation.
“They will have to share a place and we would be looking for something that would only cost around $200 a week.
“At least they will have a roof over their heads.
“They all have a good history of paying rent, they just need help.”
Ms Snowden asked why the government was targeting youth.
“They are the ones who can least afford it. They are often on very low incomes and can’t afford private rental by themselves,” she said.
“The Shoalhaven has lost 50 per cent of its current service providers and they will be replaced by bigger or Wollongong-based providers.
“We have never turned a client away, we always take the time to interview them and find out if there are other options available.
“It may take some time to get them permanent accommodation, but we try to find them something.
“On average we turn away three homeless youths a week.
“That will double or triple now with the limited services that will be available.”
THREE current clients of the Shoalhaven Youth Accommodation were at a loss on Monday when informed of the government’s decision to award the youth tender to another organisation.
Nick Rowe, 20, Trisha Sharmain, 21, and Jessica (not her real name) 24, were left wondering about their futures.
“This is shattering,” said Nick, who returned to the Shoalhaven from Canberra about three months ago.
“I came home after failing to get into the army and to be closer to my son but with no real family here, I had nowhere to stay. As a youngster I lived on the streets for a while and got help from CareSouth, who also told me about Shoalhaven Youth Accommodation.
“I contacted them and they provided me with a place to live while I get my qualifications in demolition, including asbestos removal.
“If it wasn’t for SYA, I suppose I would try to couch surf. It would be a day-to-day proposition as to where I would stay.
“I don’t understand how the government could take funding from youth services, especially youth homelessness.
“They usually have nothing as it is – it is crazy.
“I feel cheated - gutted.”
He said as a homeless person he was used to things changing quickly.
“S**t happens,” he said.
“You have to be able to adapt – get on with things.
“I’m just starting to get used to not having to live out of a bag.”
Jessica, who was escaping a violent relationship, cried as she thought about being “turfed out onto the street”.
“I had nowhere to go, the YWCA helped me with accommodation at the Riverhaven Motel and I stayed at the Nowra Motor Inn for a while, then SYA helped me.
“If it wasn’t for them I would be sleeping in my car
“To lose somewhere to live, somewhere that you can call your own would be devastating.”
Trish admitted to having had addictions to alcohol and drugs in the past but with the support of SYA had got her life “back on track”.
“I have settled into a place with SYA, I’m not living out of a suitcase anymore,” she said.
“I don’t need to live minimalistically.
“I have a room with a door I can lock.
“Having the security of a roof over your head is a great feeling - having somewhere to sleep, somewhere to shower, somewhere to prepare food, somewhere to be able to wash your clothes.
“It’s been good to have a place able to call home.
“People often take that for granted.
“I don’t really know what I’m going to do – I just know I won’t be lured back into drugs and alcohol that’s fur sure.”
NICOLE Reid is one of the many success stories of Shoalhaven Youth Accommodation.
Now aged 28, married and with four children, “life is good”, a long way from what it could have been like if she hadn’t met Kerri Snowden and the team at SYA.
“I’d come from a broken home, moved to the area when I was nine,” said.
“I didn’t get on with my mother and started at Youth Accommodation getting counselling.”
By the age of 16 she was in SYA housing.
“I’d been living with my grandmother in Sydney but it didn’t work out and everything I had was down here,” she said.
She stayed in accommodation for a few months before moving on.
By the age of 19 she was pregnant with her first daughter and was in a “bad relationship”.
“Kerri helped us, SYA supplied accommodation for me and my daughter,” she said.
“We didn’t have very much but they got us on our feet.
“I wouldn’t have the husband and four kids I do now if it wasn’t for that help.
“I have a life. We have a home we are renting at Culburra Beach and we are saving to buy our own home.
“I would hate to think where I could have ended up if it wasn’t for Kerri.
“She goes all out for her clients – I left SYA seven to eight years ago and will be forever grateful of everything they did for me.
“It wasn’t just accommodation, I was taught how to cook, how to budget, they taught me so much.”
Sam (not her real name) is another woman who has benefited from support from SYA.
She left Canberra with her two-year-old son and all they could fit in their car, escaping domestic violence.
“When I got to Nowra I got some emergency accommodation housing in a horrible motel.
“And that was pretty much all the assistance I could get.
“Then I met Kerri and her team. It was amazing what they did for me.
“She went above and beyond what she needed to do. She put her neck out for me.
“We got a house, my boy got into school, we got counselling.”
She said it was disastrous SYA had lost its funding.
“I was devastated when I heard the news. I couldn’t believe it.”
Jaime Wright, of Nowra, contacted the Register to tell her story and praise SYA.
“They were my guardian angles, I don’t know where I would be without them” she said.
“I was escaping domestic violence and had nothing. Their help and support was incredible.
“Women in the community and homeless youth are going to be in dire straits when they go. What’s going to happen to them?
“They are a great bunch of women and a community like ours needs a service like theirs.”