Couch-surfing hides Warwick's hidden homeless
THEY'RE called the "hidden homeless".
Warwick teenagers as young as 14 bouncing from friend to friend, desperate to keep a roof over their heads for one more night.
Instead of their own bedroom - their own safe haven - these children have a few belongings stuffed in a backpack and the couch of whichever friend or acquaintance opened the door to them that night.
While others their own age drift to sleep with thoughts of school, catch-ups with friends and weekend plans, the hidden homeless are consumed by thoughts of where they will sleep tomorrow and the parents they fear have forgotten them.
Warwick Salvation Army's Lieutenant Steve Spencer said the issue of youth homeless was a real problem in the Southern Downs.
"It's a very hidden problem, but it is more prolific than what people know or let on about," he said.
"If you see someone sleeping on a park bench with a newspaper blanket, you can see they're homeless, but with 'couch-surfing' you would never know."
Couch-surfing is a form of homelessness that involves people sleeping on the couches of different friends when they have no place else to go.
"With couch-surfing you stay with a friend for a couple of nights and that is okay, but then you start to outstay your welcome and they ask you to move on," Mr Spencer said.
"You do that a few times and it isn't long before you run out of friends."
Clearly moved by the problem, Mr Spencer is close to tears as he recounts some of the stories of youth homelessness he has encountered.
"It comes down to children being told they aren't loved and they have to get out," he said.
"I have kids of my own, so to hear a teenager say their parents don't love them anymore - it's gut-wrenching and it's very distressing and heartbreaking for them.
"Humanity thrives on being told they're wanted and loved, but they are being told they are a piece of garbage and treated like an unwanted pet.
"If you tell someone you love them every day, they believe it and if you tell them you hate them every day, they start to believe that."
While the Salvation Army and other charities assist where they can, Mr Spencer said there was only so much they could do.
"We don't have anywhere to help them here in Warwick, so it's a double-edged sword for us," he said.
"When we come across a child at risk we try to make sure they have friends who can support them and we help with food and clothing, if we can.
"What we would love to be able to do is put a roof over their head."
Mr Spencer said he would like to see more of these teenagers given jobs and a chance at a normal life.
"We are going to have a generation who can't look after themselves because they can't go to school, or get a job and are reliant on Centrelink," he said.
"When you give a person a job they lift themselves out of the mud and they are happy and willing to achieve."
Headspace manager Sophia McLucas agreed youth homelessness and couch-surfing were problems in the Rose City and she encouraged parents to work on their relationships with their kids.
"There are lots of reasons for the breakdown of that relationship; it could be drugs and alcohol, mental health issues or other reasons," she said.
"My advice to parents and children who are getting into that situation to keep talking and if they can't make any progress to reach out to headspace or Lifeline or Kids Helpline," she said.
Mrs McLucas said couch-surfing had the potential to lead to more life problems down the track.
"It is really heartbreaking for kids to hear their parents say they don't love them and they often end up not going to school and they don't work so they don't have anywhere to sleep or anything to eat.
"It is a big problem and it certainly needs attention, but I'm not sure what the answer is."