Spotlight on homeless youth crisis
BRETT Paradise knows first-hand the helpless feeling of being homeless.
For three years, from the age of 18, the Northern Rivers Social Development Council's youth programs manager slept on friends' couches to escape the chill of Melbourne nights.
This experience armed him with the tools to deal with the highest rate of homelessness in NSW, ex- perienced on the Northern Rivers.
So the former homeless youth was in his element at yesterday's Youth Homelessness Matters Day celebrations at Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre.
Mr Paradise said the day aimed to seek community input to address the region's increasing rate of youth homelessness.
"People can be advocates and write to their local member of parliament, highlighting their concerns, or they can just ask what local youth homelessness services need and make donations of services, goods or skills to them," he said.
He said factors contributing to homelessness among Northern Rivers youth included domestic violence, neglect, parental drug or alcohol abuse, or child abuse.
During his three year "couch surfing" experience, Mr Paradise said it never occurred to him he was officially homeless until he began to deal with homeless youth in his current role five years ago.
Ultimately, he said, his constant employment over the three years enabled him to make the transition to getting his own accommodation.
"Counting the number of young people who are homeless can often be hard because many young people don't see themselves as homeless," he said.
"These young people are 'hidden homeless' and are not your typical vision of street sleepers."
Youth Homelessness Matters Day was launched in 2005 by youth workers from Youth Accommodation Interagency Nepean who wanted to draw public attention to the issue.
Yesterday's seventh annual Youth Homelessness Matters Day included a free BBQ and dance workshops with Mitch King from Youth Connections.
To engage people in creative solutions to youth homelessness, participants were given pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle.
They were asked to write their ideas for creating youth housing solutions on the puzzle before it was put together.
Mr Paradise said the ideas would contribute to work being done to end youth homelessness in Australia.