Help our homeless youth

Hannah-Lee Smith interviews Gerina Appo from St Joseph’s Youth Service Tweed Heads NSW

“We all lock our doors now because the streets aren’t safe anymore” an elderly woman once said.

But why?

The answer lies in the fact that today’s society isn’t as stable and families are not as involved as they were 20 years ago. Teenagers often come from broken homes, are victims of violence, abuse and neglect, they suffer from behavioural issues such as ADHD and mental illness, have poor diet, they hang out with the wrong group of friends or simply don’t find love, acceptance, security and family support in their environment. Many are responsible for raising siblings or have parents who abuse substances or are in gaol and can’t look after them.

Many teenagers end up living on the streets.

On the streets of Tweed Heads, on any given night there is roughly 170 young people that are homeless. Some are moving from one temporary shelter to another, some live in accommodations that fall below minimum community standards and some have no roof over their heads at all.

So who is there to help the young people with their battles?

Gerina Appo, acting manager of St Joseph’s Youth Service in Tweed Heads is one person who reaches out. Here she talks to Hannah-Lee Smith about her work with the youth.


Why is it important to have a group dedicated to helping just young people?

  • Because young people’s needs are different to adults

Have the statistics for homelessness increased or decreased over the last few years?

  • Definitely increased

Do you see a reason or pattern for this?

  • Lots of reasons, lack of affordable housing, limited support services, and income of young people, family breakdown, and increase in mental health concerns, Drug and alcohol issues. Lack of employment opportunities.

Does the definition of ‘homeless’ just include those without a place to sleep?

  • No
  • Primary homelessness is experienced by people without conventional accommodation (e.g. sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings);
  • Secondary homelessness is experienced by people who frequently move from one temporary shelter to another (e.g. emergency accommodation, youth refuges, “couch surfing”);
  • Tertiary homelessness is experienced by people staying in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards (e.g. boarding housing and caravan parks).

You are Acting Manager at St Joseph’s Youth Service in Tweed Heads. What does your role involve?

  • Supervision of Staff
  • Overseeing all aspects of the service
  • Program Coordination
  • Intake and assessments
  • Delivery of services
  • Networking and collaboration
  • Program reporting

What services does the St Joseph’s Youth Service provide in the Tweed Shire?

  • Emergency Relief and Brokerage (12yrs – 25 yrs and their parents)
  • Outreach Support (12 – 25 yrs)
  • Supported Accommodation Program (16-21 yrs)
  • Coolheads Street Outreach Service ( activities at night and street run for young people to ensure they safety while out on street)
  • Domino Project (a support group for young people caring for their family who suffer a Mental Illness

When was the St Joseph’s Youth Service founded?

  • In 1983

How is the service funded?

  • Primarily through Govt., both state and federal Govt.
  • Small community grants and donations’

If money was no object what personal dream project would you undertake today?

  • Create a hub for young people that provided space for young people to showcase their talents, provided employment through social enterprise.

Do you use creativity as a way to encourage youth to express themselves?

  • Yes all the time through various mediums

How do you help build self-esteem and confidence in youth?

  • Through groups and workshops
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Celebrating young people reliance and achievements

What was the biggest influence that led you into working in youth support?

  • My old Manager, his passion and his empathy for people.

Gerina, you are an inspiration to many people, who is it that you most admire or who inspires you?

  • No one person, young people inspire me every day with their reliance and ability to overcome adversity.

What is the hardest thing about your job?

  • When a young person suicides

St Joseph’s hold a strict anti-discrimination policy-what are your views about discrimination in our society?

  • That it is a shame in our society.  We should all be seen as equal no matter our color, religious belief or sexuality or where we went to school, grow up or how much money we have.  Everyone has a place in society.

If you could change just one thing for the youth in the Tweed Community what would it be?

  • More opportunities for housing, employment and study opportunities and for enough funding to be able to meet the needs of all young people.

What is the best advice that anyone has given you that still holds true for you today?

  • It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.

For people who need your help what is the best way to contact the St Joseph’s Youth Service?

  • Contact 0755891800
  • Email
  • Attend intake at the office Monday and Thursday between 9.30-12.30


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