“I was only little. I was crying and screaming at dad to stop but he kept punching and kicking her even when she fell to the floor. This time she didn’t wake up. That was the last Christmas I had with Mum.” – Connor*, 16
Connor was homeless at 13. His journey to the streets began at a very young age, growing up in poverty with a violent, alcoholic father.
When Connor was a little boy, he watched his dad beat his mum so viciously that she died from her injuries the same night. It was Christmas Eve. And even though he knew there would be no presents or Christmas lunch, he never thought it would be the last time he would ever see his mum.
Unfortunately, foster care was just as dangerous with unfathomable physical and sexual abuse. Everyone who should have cared for Connor failed him. They took his innocence and childhood away and made him feel like he was nothing.
Soon, Connor was out on the streets. But the horror he endured stayed with him.
Two years later, days before Christmas, Connor was on Sydney’s Anzac Bridge ready to jump.
“I was standing there looking down at the water far below thinking of ending it all. I don’t know how long I’d been there when all of a sudden my phone rang.”
As he stood on that bridge, ready to jump, one of our youth workers, Kylie, called his mobile. She was checking in, because Christmas was around the corner and she wanted to make sure he was ok. This is from Kylie:
“I saw Connor years later at a Youth Off The Streets reunion. He asked if I remembered that phone call. He said, ‘Kylie, I hadn’t told you where I was or what I was about to do. But you called right then to check to see how I was doing. And I’ll never forget the words you said to me. You said ‘don’t forget that you have people who love you and we’re always here for you no matter what. Remember that no matter what, there are people here who care’.”
Connor walked away that day and changed his life. He told me that he will never, ever, feel alone again or feel that all hope is lost, because he knows we are there for him.
The change that can happen when someone is shown kindness is nothing short of remarkable.
Beth* was born into extreme poverty, with both parents addicted to drugs, Beth was placed in foster care at a young age. Her physical disability put a strain on her new family. But her mum didn’t want her back. So at 15 with no place to go, she ended up on the streets.
“I remember seeing all these people dressed nicely, heading off to work, just going about their lives. They would walk past and I felt invisible.”
“It would make me sad to see the decorations go up in the city and all the people doing their Christmas shopping trying not to look at me as they walked by. It reminded me I had nothing and no one to spend Christmas with. I just wanted someone to be there for me.”
We first met Beth at a train station, hanging out with other homeless kids at night. Many of the kids were high on drugs, desperately trying to stay awake.
“You don’t want to sleep at night because it’s not safe. You need to be on your guard all the time. Too many people want to do bad things to you.”
Unfortunately, many refuges turned Beth away. Her disability made her appear ‘under the influence’; she had body tremors and slurred speech, she was irritable and expressed herself through outbursts. To an over-worked refuge worker, Beth was a risk to the other kids.
But our youth worker Jordan refused to give up. He would go with Beth to refuges, explain her circumstances and help her get in. As Christmas rolled around, Jordan went above and beyond to make sure Beth had something to eat, a safe place to sleep and people who cared for her.
“I think a lot of people underestimated Beth and thought that because she was homeless and disabled, they could just treat her like dirt and get away with it. She’d dealt with that all her life. But she’s proved them all wrong.”
It took time, but with our help Beth found a place to call her own. She’s been living there for two years, paying rent and keeping the place clean and tidy. This year, she even plans on having a Christmas tree for the first time in her life.
You can help us reach out to more vulnerable kids like Connor and Beth who are frightened, lonely and hungry. Together we can give them them the things they need most – warmth, shelter, food and a sense of belonging.