Casey* had a tumultuous upbringing. Their parents were emotionally and physically abusive, and at age 12 they experienced sexual abuse from a member of their church.
The trauma made Casey angry and withdrawn as a child. They started experimenting with alcohol and drugs – anything that would take away the pain of abuse.
“I lashed out, and I don’t think my parents knew how to handle it,” they reflect. “I felt unsafe.”
One day, after a fight with their parents turned violent, Casey put on some shoes and walked out the door.
“I decided I’d rather be on the streets than live in a toxic household.”
With nothing but the clothes on their back, Casey walked from their parent’s house in Glenhaven to Blacktown – a trip that took hours.
“I wasn’t wearing fancy shoes – I was wearing thongs. It was painful,” they recall.
“But I travelled to Blacktown because I knew there would be a service there that could help me.”
A few years before, Casey had done a school assignment on homelessness and remembered hearing about Youth Off The Streets providing support services there.
“I did my best to follow signs, but it took me a long time to get there,” they say.
“Once I arrived, I knew I needed to find something for dinner. I had no money with me. I only picked up 60 cents along the way. So I found some fruit that had rolled off a fruit stand and ate that.”
Casey remembers feeling lost.
“I was disoriented and confused,” they recall. “I found a crate and searched for something to keep me warm.
“I ended up finding a mattress protector, which isn’t the warmest thing on the planet, but I used that as a blanket for the night.”
Casey found Youth Off The Streets’ office and slept on the doorstep.
“It was my first time on the streets,” they say.
“A handful of drunk people walked past me and gave me what they had left of the food they were eating. A random man walked up to me and gave me a jumper and something to drink.”
After a long night, two youth workers arrived at the office the following day.
“They asked my name and age and took me to the shops across to road to find some clothes, shoes and a bag,” Casey explains.
“Then, they made calls to find me somewhere to stay for the night.”
Temporary accommodation options are often at capacity, so it can be a challenge to find somewhere for a young person to stay long-term.
“Over the next couple of weeks, I stayed at many different places,” Casey says. “But I ended up at Don Bosco House in Marrickville, where they helped me set up Centrelink payments. Then they referred me to a place in Mount Druitt to live for a while, because it was a bit closer to my school.”
During this time, Casey was also navigating the process of coming out.
“I tried coming out a few times as a younger teenager, but every time it would backfire,” they explain.
“I lied for years. My parents hated me for it and wouldn’t accept it. They are very conservative, so I was taught that being gay is a sin.”
Once Casey left home, they slowly came out over the next few months.
“I’m transgendered and, to be honest, it’s still a process of working out my gender and sexuality. It’s taken me many years to get to this point.”
After the Mount Druitt accommodation, Casey stayed at an all-girls refuge for a few months.
Following that, for a period of almost two and a half years, Casey experienced homelessness.
They dropped out of school because it became too difficult to attend. Sometimes finding a place to sleep felt like clutching at straws.
“I moved from refuge to refuge. Or I stayed on someone’s couch. Sometimes I’d end up on the side of the road again, with no other options.”
A few times – when Casey was desperate – they went back to their parents.
“If I had nowhere else to go and needed a shower, toilet or food that wasn’t stale bread and butter, I’d try returning to my parents,” they say.
“But it never worked out. They’d charge me rent that I couldn’t afford, and I was gone within a couple of months. I decided I’d rather sleep on the streets than end up at my family’s house.”
Eventually, Casey decided to find accommodation in a new state to avoid returning to family. They packed up their life into a few bags and left New South Wales to travel to South Australia.
“I slept rough in three different states,” they reflect.
“Once I got to Adelaide, I slept rough until I found a hostel to stay in. It wasn’t comfortable, but it had a roof.”
Though it was a difficult time in their life, some experiences gave Casey hope.
In 2019, a supporter of Youth Off The Streets sponsored Casey and 19 other homeless young people to attend a recording of the TV show, Australia’s Got Talent.
“That night, a former homeless guy was singing a song about being homeless and finding somewhere to live,” they recall.
“I still listen to his music – he’s called D. Minor. When I heard it, I thought, ‘OK, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel’.”
“I didn’t know how long the tunnel was going to be, but there was a light somewhere at the end, and I knew I was going to get there.”
Casey eventually found a place to live with roommates in Adelaide and is currently studying at TAFE.
“I realised at the end of last year that I was an addict, which I had been denying for years,” they say.
“With the support of AA and NA, I’ve managed to stop, and now I’m sober. I’m proud of myself.”
Today, Casey’s mental and physical health is significantly better.
“I feel happier,” they say. “I can work on my mental health rather than let it sink as low as possible. I’m taking proper medication to help my anxiety and depression. I’ve had chronic pain for years, and it’s even helping that.”
While Casey was homeless, they struggled to find a job. They hope to start work this year when they finish studying.
“I’ve decided 2022 is my year to try and change the world as much as I can. I have a list of things I’d like to achieve – like finding work and writing a book.”
Casey says they’ll always remember Youth Off The Streets as the first service to help them.
“I ended up in some crappy places, but they supported me and stuck by me – it’s not something you forget.”
You can stand up against youth homelessness this April by signing up for The Great Couch Sleepout now.
*Name and image changed to protect the identity of the young person.