Carinity Youth – Harald’s House Helping Homeless

There are many reasons people are homeless, but for at least three children this year, it came about when they were simply left at Cairns Hospital.

Program Manager at Carinity Youth – Harald’s House, Harald Falge, has helped homeless youth for two decades and says he was flabbergasted each time he received a call from the hospital.

Fortunately, in all three cases, we were able to give the children food, shelter, and a supportive environment immediately. Two have since returned to their parents, Dr Falge said

If we hadn’t stepped in, they might be on the streets, and that’s dangerous for children who are fending for themselves. They’re targets for paedophiles, and some adults try and involve them in crime, he said.

Homeless Persons’ Week 2013 runs until Sunday, 11 August, and raises awareness about homelessness while also encouraging people to hold events to fundraise for organisations offering support.

Only a small portion of homeless people actually sleep rough. Dr Falge estimates there are about 50 young people who do in Cairns, and says it’s a world they shouldn’t have to experience.

It’s purely about survival. They sleep in car parks, old buildings that are about to be torn down, or if it’s not raining, in parks somewhere. They always have to watch out in case people want what they have. If they have a blanket, and there’s another homeless child or man who wants it, they try to take it.

The children often end up in fights because they want to protect what little they have. They also sometimes don’t go to the hospital to be treated for their injuries. Because they could be waiting a long time, they put up with something if it’s small.

Dr Falge says 38 per cent of children who’ve lived in Carinity Youth – Harald’s House were once couch surfing, but warns couch surfers eventually run out of luck.

Couch surfing isn’t permanent. Most of the time, they do it with friends, and the parents of those children end up saying ‘we have our own lives to get on with’, so the homeless child’s left to find another friend.

There’s a good chance that young people who couch surf will eventually end up with nowhere to go, and either go back to their parents, if they can, or end up on the street.

Dr Falge estimates that numbers of homeless children in Cairns are rising, based on an increase in occupancy rates at Carinity Youth – Harald’s House.

Occupancy at the youth accommodation centre was 90 per cent in June, which is about double what it was for the same month last year.

A high occupancy rate reflects the number of children on the street who want to be off the street,” he said.

It’s logical that the more children there are on the streets, the more we will get here. That seems the most feasible explanation.

Carinity Youth – Harald’s House creates a nurturing environment where young people discover pathways to a brighter future. They are required to take part in schooling, training or work during their stay.

We create a family environment, and we teach young people to respect one another, and everyone around them. We teach budgeting skills, we have a cooking class once a week, and nutritionists come every fortnight. But they have to do chores, too: taking out the garbage, sweeping, cooking and cleaning,” Dr Falge said.

He says the staff and volunteers are positive role models who spend time with the young people.

The biggest complaint children have when they come here is that their families don’t spend time with them. We go on excursions; we go swimming and bushwalking together. We’ve been wakeboarding, fishing and go-carting. We eat dinner together every night and we talk together.

When they’re saying goodbye to their friends, they say they’re going home, not going to a homeless shelter, or someone else’s house, he said.

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