Youth worker Hilde Schuurman: “We do not give up on them”

Hilde Schuurman youth work Youth Off The Streets talks about supporting teenagers

The Inner West Youth Homeless Service is a partnership between Wesley Mission, YWCA and Youth Off The Streets supporting teenagers who are experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness across Sydney’s Inner West.

Youth Off The Streets’ Don Bosco Home offers crisis accommodation, as well as referrals to other services and community partners, providing teenagers with the ongoing support they need to turn their lives around.

Hilde has worked for Youth Off The Streets Inner West Youth Homeless Service for 7 years, starting off as a youth worker to now managing a team of 20 in her role as Team Leader at one of our longest running services, Don Bosco Home.

After managing a pub in Woolloomooloo, Hilde witnessed an alarming amount of drug and alcohol abuse from locals who lived in the area, which ultimately compelled her on a journey to becoming a youth worker at Youth Off The Streets.

Hilde, what inspired you to start working at Youth Off The Streets?

Not being originally from Australia, I didn’t know who Father Riley was. After reading how he started Youth Off The Streets I thought, ‘he must be pretty cool if he started off this organisation with only a truck and a pony’. It turned out he was and I quickly discovered that his values and passion were entwined across the whole organisation.

Can you describe what an average day is like working at Don Bosco as Team Leader?

There isn’t an average day working at a crisis refuge. My day exists from really hands-on practical work, such as making sure the young people are ready for the day, to also working with our many partners within the Inner West community, such as Youth Justice NSW and the Department of Communities and Justice. They help us in supporting teenagers to overcome any barriers and ensure they can reach their full potential.

Besides this, I manage a team of youth workers and make sure they receive the right support and training.

Every day, no matter what the situation, our staff approach situations in a trauma informed way. We know there is always a way forward. We teach coping skills to young people to manage and overcome all kinds of challenging situations.

You never really know what you are walking into. You find yourself solving incidents between young people and you have to reprioritise your ‘to-do’ list. Other times I’ll get to work and it is very quiet. When this occurs, you have the space to get to know our young people on a different level, which is great.

What do you think is unique about working at the Inner West Youth Homeless Service? What are the benefits the service offers to a young person requiring help?

The Inner West Youth Homeless Service team are incredibly committed. When I hear a young person doesn’t want to leave our refuges, it is a sign that what we do really works.

We’re focus on supporting teenagers that contact us in any way we can. Sometimes it is as simple as providing a food voucher. Some require outreach casework support while living at home. Our Street Walk manager finds young people who need a bed. When this happens, we explore the cause of their homelessness.

This enables us to work on their living skills and short-term goals and either get them ready for one of our transitional properties or to return home. After a few weeks our casework team start the transitional housing process or they liaise with the family members on a return-to-home plan. After the young person moves, our casework team remain involved.

We have a fantastic Intake Worker that responds to every call that comes in. When a young person is referred to us outside the Inner West district, we link them in with the best services in their area. In cases where they are sleeping rough and their district do not have any crisis vacancies, we provide a bed for them until their district can respond.

What are some important things someone working in your field should always keep in mind?

It is all about giving back to the younger community. Of course, this can be challenging and some young people have a long journey ahead of them.

However, it is amazing to see a young person realise how committed our staff are. We do not give up on them. It is about helping them understand that they have a support network and the opportunity to leave a negative or unsafe situation.

We’re consistently supporting teenagers in various areas of their life to achieve greatness and better outcomes. We are so privileged to work with young people who are incredible resilient in their ability to learn and grow through a great relationship with us. They are funny, tell interesting stories, and most importantly, they tell us what is cool and hip these days.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is a privilege to work with such a variety of staff, from Senior Management to our front line workers, everyone is committed and prepared for the challenges. This includes communicating with young people, making organisational decisions and developing partnerships.

The young people that I have worked with have given me insight to the importance of my role and why our work is vital to their safety and happiness. We help them look toward a brighter future. Being able to connect with young people on their level is brilliant and fills me with great pride.

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