Having a place to live is something we often take for granted. But the reality is that in Australia 1 in 200 people sleep rough each night, with 42 per cent of all homeless people under the age of 25.
Youth Homelessness Matters Day (17 April) is a timely reminder of the struggle young people face without a roof over their head. It is also an opportunity to recognise the people who work tirelessly to better those young lives.
Sam Field is a Department of Human Services Community Engagement Officer (CEO) in Ipswich, and one of 90 CEOs across Australia that work with community organisations to combat youth homelessness.
“Young people and mental health are my key focus areas in Ipswich, which often go hand and hand,” Sam said.
“I strongly believe that as a community we need to work together, to see young people succeed, have a home and be safe.
“It’s so satisfying to work closely with vulnerable customers, to link them to services and support, and then see them weeks later and hear they’ve found accommodation and had their first full night’s sleep.”
“The whole Centrelink process can be overwhelming at first, especially for youth,” Sam said.
“CEOs can help young people understand the process so they’re well supported.”
Sam has been with the department for over a decade. Eighteen months ago she became a CEO in the communities of Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Somerset Region and parts of the Scenic Rim.
“What I love about being a CEO is that you can actually see the difference you’re making,” Sam said.
“For a lot of young people this is the first time they’ve had someone from government listen to their story.
“It can sometimes take a few meetings and conversations to build that level of trust. Rather than say ‘let’s fix this one issue,’ I just listen to them and find a solution that works.
“This is one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever had in the department and also the most emotionally fulfilling.”
CEOs work with community groups to identify vulnerable people and make them aware of the range of departmental services available.
Nationally they work with over 1600 organisations, including more than 200 dedicated to helping young people.
“We work closely in Ipswich because we want to do the best job we can to help people in our community,” Sam said
For Sam, this includes working with Headspace, the Department of Youth Justice and the Ipswich Community Youth Service (ICYS).
Amanda Margerison manages the ICYS, and values the work Sam does to ensure people can access the Centrelink and Medicare support they need.
“Sam is an important partner of our organisation and her role is pivotal to supporting our region’s young people,” said Amanda.
“She assists those who are displaced from family and other supports to access payments, and find safe and affordable housing options faster.
“This is particularly important in regional areas where young people do not always have access to transport and services that can assist them.”
Last year Sam took part in the ICYS Homeless Sleepout Challenge, where people from schools, businesses and government departments all sleep rough to raise awareness for youth homelessness.
“My husband and son attended the Sleepout because we’re all a part of the one community,” Sam said.
“My son was particularly moved by the experience as it was a real reality check for him to see just how many people his age were doing it tough.
“He’s now a youth ambassador for the ICYS.
“One night in the cold to raise money and awareness is a very small price to pay to highlight just how tough some of our young people in Australia are doing.”