PRESSING NEED: Michelle Richards and Kim Lawton from Reconnect Rockhampton are fighting to establish a youth centre to house homeless indigenous teenagers.
PRESSING NEED: Michelle Richards and Kim Lawton from Reconnect Rockhampton are fighting to establish a youth centre to house homeless indigenous teenagers.

Elders call for funds to help 'save 80 homeless kids'

IT'S hard building a "home" using crumbs and scraps.

Just ask the Reconnect Rockhampton team from the Fitzroy Basin Elders Committee.

They have been fighting for a youth centre to home the 80-plus homeless indigenous Central Queensland teenagers.

But they can't do it on a budget of $250,000.

Click here to read: State Government response to homelessness in Rockhampton

Reconnect Rockhampton program co-ordinator Michelle Richards wanted the centre to be built soon; before more indigenous kids from this region were hurt or put out onto the streets.

Their pleas follow the death of a 16-year-old indigenous teenager, who was killed in a fatal traffic crash in Bolsover St late last month.

Ms Richards said the young men involved in the crash, including one who was critically injured, were known to several government, community and justice agencies.

She said over the past three years, these indigenous youngsters were experiencing hardship and saw little to no change with their personal circumstances.

She claimed that children as young as 11 years old were committing criminal acts and indulged in sexual activity they did not consent to, in exchange for food and lodgings.

"There is an increasing number of these youth now entering 'street life' or homelessness," she said.

"It is a well-accepted fact that with the rising number of 'street kids', there comes an increase in crime and tragedy... we need to do something now to get the remaining homeless indigenous children off the street; to protect them and local businesses from adversity."

Ms Richards revealed there were only three people running the Reconnect Rockhampton service for young indigenous teenagers aged between 12 and 18.

Those services involved case managing homeless youngsters who came from backgrounds of extreme poverty, whose parents were in jail or those who came from broken homes.

Ms Richards told The Morning Bulletin yesterday her two case managers only had the capacity to manage 30 homeless kids. But that was near-impossible to do with the rapidly rising number of homeless kids in Central Queensland.

She said Reconnect Rockhampton presented its case proposal for more funding to several State Government departments at last year's Community Cabinet meeting at Frenchville State School.

It was there that the former LNP Ministers for Communities and Child Safety, Housing and Public Works, Police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs advised Ms Richards to apply for various rounds of funding when they were available.

She said she took that as the State Government could not assist them with their crusade.

So rather than rely on funding from the upper two tiers of government, she wanted urgent help from the community to support the initiative to build a new youth centre.

Reconnect Rockhampton has secured a property to provide support services to the disconnected and homeless youth.

Ms Richards said it needed renovating and fitting out with a lot more amenities.

"We will supply them with food, shower, clothing and blankets, a place where they can wash their clothes, engage in activities, be fed and get warm," she said.

"These youth do not understand why their parents have forsaken them. We hope to instil a sense of pride that they have survived despite the adversity in their home lives."

At the very least, Reconnect Rockhampton wanted $150,000 in funding to develop a crisis youth centre, for respite from being on the streets.

Ms Richards said while she appreciated any federal and state assistance towards closing the gap in education and health for indigenous youth, the funding needed to be funnelled to organisations like Reconnect so they could properly invest the funding on providing basic amenities.

She said while funding for indigenous youth in education was fine and well, many kids failed to adapt to the education and schooling system because they weren't receiving basic care at home.

"That's where we have to start first, before we go on," she said.

State Government response

A HOUSING and Public Works spokesman yesterday said the State Government department had not received an application for funding or proposal from the Fitzroy Basin Elders Committee.

He said the department would be pleased to meet with the Fitzroy Basin Elders Committee to better understand their proposal.

"The department provided more than $4.1 million to eight support providers in the region this financial year to tackle homelessness," the spokesman said.

"The services are primarily for people 18 years and over... it would appear that FBEC's target cohort are 12 to 17 years of age, and therefore the FBEC should also contact the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services."

Homelessness services are supported as part of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), which is a joint Federal and State government initiative.

Member for Rockhampton Bill Byrne said he was more than happy to meet with the team from Reconnect Rockhampton, but they had to organise that meeting first.



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