• Nicolle Applewhite, Youth Outreach Worker

Supporting some of our most vulnerable young people

'Raw Potential Canberra', previously known as ‘Youth Care Canberra’ supports some of our most vulnerable young people who are currently at a ‘low’ point in their lives.

My name is Nicolle. I am a youth outreach worker for 'Raw Potential Canberra' (St John’s Care is the service provider). We support at risk, vulnerable and homeless young people. I meet with them at some of the hardest times of their young lives, and we, if they let us, have the privilege to walk alongside them and offer our support, care, information and light.

During my time working in the ‘Youth Sector’, I met a young boy called Ryan (not his real name). Tragically, Ryan told me that as he grew older, his living environment became unbearable and he was forced to turn to the streets. Living on the streets led him down a dark path he’d always vowed to avoid. He soon found himself taking drugs and engaging in criminal activity just to survive.

Ryan said something to me that will stay with me forever… He said, ‘Nicolle, I’m in this situation and I don’t know how I got here. It all happened so fast. When you are in such a low place, the lowest of the low, you can’t get any lower and you get used to it. Now, I am the low, and being low is much easier than trying to get out of it, especially when you don’t have anyone who cares about you’.

My heart sank. He was just 15 years old.

As I started to work within the community service sector, Ryan’s wise words made me reflect on how our young people must be feeling - low. Ryan was known by other youth workers but was not engaged in any services. I hoped that if Ryan had found Raw Potential Canberra, he would have received the relevant support. Sadly, at the beginning of 2018 I heard the news that Ryan had passed away. Unfortunately, he could not find a way out of his low place.

In this life time, and in current situations, this is reality for many.

However, where there is bad there can always be so much good. 'Raw Potential Canberra' is a program that supports and advocates for young people, many of whom are like Ryan. We offer them a hand up with respect and empathy for who they are. We often see the potential inside that they currently cannot see.

I know this because I am currently supporting several homeless young people. For example, a young couch-surfing couple who have just found out that they are expecting a baby. I have been working with them for a few months building on our relationship and assisting with strategies to help them and improve their situation. We are in the process of getting a government loan for an accommodation bond, as well as supporting them with referrals, information and access to a good GP. They have a long road ahead of them; but they are on their way and are very positive.

Unfortunately, we will never be able to say youth homelessness does not exist. But Raw Potential Canberra can sure start minimising the number of young people on our streets. We will support young people wanting to get out of their ‘low’, and with help from 'Raw Potential Canberra', they most definitely will.

Nicolle Applewhite, Youth Outreach Worker

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