Meet the Raw Potential youth outreach worker fighting to give voice to Canberra’s vulnerable young people

Lived experience and genuine passion for the cause help Raw Potential youth outreach worker Stacey in her work. Photo: Raw Potential.

No two days are the same in Stacey’s line of work.

As a youth outreach worker with Raw Potential, her days centre around supporting people aged 12 to 25 in the ACT and surrounding region who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

As the bridge between these young people and vital community services, her job involves whatever it takes to break down barriers between them and safety.

Invariably, this involves speaking to young people doing it tough – and she’s far from indifferent to their plight.

“Often young people present with experiences of mental health or family breakdown … they’re quite often carrying so much trauma,” she says.

“There’s a lot of mistrust because a lot of our young people haven’t been heard in their lives.

“My job is to build relationships and trust with young people, make sure they are heard and let them lead the way on their own journey.

“A lot of the time that just means showing up, being present and doing what we say we will do.”

Stacey works in the field, meeting with vulnerable young people on their terms in a location they are comfortable with.

She says speaking from a place of experience helps.

“I lost my voice as a young person due to family domestic violence. Taking a road less fortunate, due to no fault of your own, I know what that’s like,” she says.

“I’m extremely passionate about breaking down barriers and advocating for young people with a hope of providing early intervention and allowing them to be heard.

“If we can just show young people a different way, present them with some options, often before we know it we see a young person achieving their potential. And there’s nothing on earth like it.”Screenshot 2023-07-13 at 3.06.48 pm.png

The Raw Potential outreach van means Stacey (right) can meet young people on their home turf. Photo: Raw Potential.

After carrying out an intake, Stacey spends time getting to know each young person before collaborating on developing goals and a personalised plan created by and with the young person.

Often the two forms of support needed most immediately relate to accommodation and health and wellbeing.

This may involve booking appointments, transporting to appointments and supporting any follow-up actions.

Other times, it might be the seemingly simple (but in reality, sometimes confounding) task of attaining any form of identification.

With the might of Woden Community Service behind them, they try to overcome roadblocks and bring the plan to fruition.

“It’s extremely hard for me as a youth outreach worker to see how much trauma and pain these young people are sitting with, and at times, to not see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Stacey says.

“Much of the time I’m trying to get young people into supported housing options where they don’t fit mainstream accommodation options.

“Then there’s the waiting, which is the biggest bottleneck.

“There’s a window of opportunity when a young person comes to you for support, we need to jump on that. As community workers we need to come together to wrap around that young person because once that window is closed, it can be years before it opens again – if ever.”

Despite the frustration, Stacey says the rewards are priceless.

“At the end of day when you see a young person achieves all their goals, it’s absolute magic.”

Stacey started in the youth outreach worker role when Raw Potential partnered with Woden Community Service, where she previously worked. It’s something Raw Potential chair John Miller is very grateful for.

“Our youth outreach workers are the key to it all – they have to take these young people by the hand and lead them through the doors they must go through,” he says.

With no government support, Raw Potential relies 100 per cent on the generosity of the public and its sponsors, such as Synergy, to fund its invaluable efforts.

Of its total annual funding, around 30 to 40 per cent comes from fundraising at events, such as their recent efforts at Floriade.

Raw Potential must raise a minimum of a quarter of a million dollars a year to keep its programs running.

Even with a volunteer board and strong relationships with community services and complementary organisations, it’s still necessary to work lean.

The charity observes best practice in efficiency, with all funds going to support the young people who need help.

“Each young person might need upwards of 40 interactions. So about $4000 is needed to really make a difference in their lives,” John says.

“We can’t afford any wastage.”

One in six young people in Australia has experienced homelessness, according to recent Mission Australia data.

The top reasons young people between 15 and 24 need homelessness help are the housing crisis (37 per cent), domestic and family violence (25 per cent) and inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (15 per cent).

For more information, visit the Raw Potential website.

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