At Youth Off The Streets, we advocate for the rights and responsibilities of young people in need every day. But how do these young people get their voices heard?
The Youth Advisory Group (YAG) emerged in response to the need for a youth-led forum where young people can provide feedback on our programs and services.
“Through the YAG, young people make vital contributions to Youth Off The Streets and the broader community, based on their strengths, ideas and experiences,” says Inner West Youth Homelessness Service (IWYHS) Intake Worker and YAG Coordinator, Tiana Gracia.
“The YAG delivers youth-designed, youth-led and youth-driven projects, based on our young people’s strengths, ideas and experiences.”
The YAG currently consists of nine passionate young people who meet on a monthly basis to discuss youth-specific issues and ways to address them.
Sabry is one of these young people. He sat down to tell us his story of resilience and creativity – and to hint at exciting projects on the horizon for the YAG.
When Sabry was 16, he left his family home for a Youth Off The Streets refuge.
“The move out was very sudden and very stressful,” Sabry recalls.
He had grown up in a conservative, single-parent household, and cultural differences led to family breakdown.
“My mum disagreed with my values, and that made my school life difficult.”
“There were times when she wouldn’t let me go to school at all. But thankfully my teachers were very supportive. They connected me with Youth Off The Streets.”
At first, Sabry was apprehensive about leaving his mother.
“I do wish that my mum was more supportive at that time. But I understand that she was raised in a different way in a different country – so her mindset isn’t as open as I’d like it to be.”
However, visiting the refuge for the first time eased Sabry’s anxiety.
“I remember meeting other residents and realising, ‘Okay, I feel safe here’,” he says.
“The youth workers there, Tiana and Erin, made the refuge so welcoming. I’m grateful to them and all the people I’ve met.
“I’ve made very strong friendships out of the experience.”
Youth Off The Streets later assisted Sabry into transitional accommodation with a friend he had made at the refuge. At the same time, he began Year 12.
Sabry was able to explore his passion for Drama and Art through his HSC subjects. It paid off when his major work was selected for ARTEXPRESS.
“My artwork was self-portrait photography on two large canvases, reflecting the conflict between personality, religion and sexuality.
“It was a way for me to express the challenges I’ve faced, but also how I’ve coped with them.”
After finishing high school, Sabry was able to start rebuilding his relationship with his mother.
He also wants to gain real-world experience working in theatre before he considers taking on a university degree in design and theatre management.
Sabry remembers that, “I started emailing directors, calling directors, asking, ‘Are you guys offering any costuming or set design jobs?”
Thankfully, Sabry’s tenacity paid off. He was offered a costume design and set design position at a nearby theatre.
“I’m working on a production called A Very Expensive Poison, and I’m really excited, as the four-week run has just kicked off.”
Sabry balances his passion for drama with several part-time jobs – ice cream vendor and library bartender. At the same time, he is wholly committed to volunteering with the YAG.
Sabry joined the group last year. He jumped at the chance to reteam with Tiana and have his say on significant issues like youth employment, mental health and domestic and family violence.
“It’s a very grown-up workspace. I’m able to contribute my own ideas and hear other people’s. We work well together and I’m very confident about what I can give to the team.
“In a world run by adults, it’s very good to hear the thoughts of young people.”
The YAG has multiple projects in the pipeline. Recently, Sabry pitched a collaboration between Youth Off The Streets and one of his employers.
“The ice cream store where I work is a charity store, so we do events with the local community centre and the Red Cross,” Sabry says.
“I’d love to hold a little ice cream night that raises money for Youth Off The Streets.”
Based on his own experiences, Sabry believes these demonstrations of kindness and solidarity are integral to addressing homelessness.
“When people say ‘Let’s stop homelessness’, what they’re actually saying is, ‘Let’s find more support for homeless people. Let’s find more motivation to help them. Let’s create a bigger community that can actually assist.”
“I think that’s how we can remove the general stigma around homelessness.”
You can learn more about the support offered by our refuges here.