Jo recalls living between hotels, stealing food for their mum and little sister and running away up to 40 times to live on the streets. Jo would sleep near Bourke Street Mall, and be spat on, kicked, or have blankets and cardboard stolen from under them.
“It was less than ideal, but it was the best I could do… I would take that over the abuse any day,” Jo says, referring to their time living with their mother. “I grew up being told: you’re showing too much emotion. You need to stop it. You need to stop crying about everything. You need to stop being angry.”
During their time on the streets, Jo experienced traumatic events and had thoughts of suicide. Subsequently, at 14, Jo was admitted to a psychiatric ward and diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Bridging the gap
The Foundation provided a Community Grant to Bridge It, a Melbourne-based charity that provides young people exiting out-of-home care with a home, a community, and the support to thrive.
One such home is The Cocoon, where eventually Jo was offered a place to stay. It provides safe accommodation to seven young women exiting out-of-home care and vulnerable to homelessness.
At The Cocoon, social workers give one-on-one support to help residents build social connections, training to develop a resume to gain employment, advice to secure work experience, and assist with job searching. It is a place to recover, stabilise, develop living skills such as cooking and budgeting, and prepare for long-term housing.
The Foundation’s Community Grant meant Bridge It residents – like Jo – have continuous support from a mentor who provides meaningful, non-judgemental guidance.
Jo finds peace at The Cocoon
“My whole life was like, oh, I’m probably going to die by 10, okay 11, 12, 13, 14,” says Jo. “And then, at 16, I was so confused, and every birthday I’m still confused; I’m like, how am I still alive? What I’ve been through, I should be dead.”
Jo’s upbringing initially made it difficult to set personal goals. But after living at The Cocoon and participating in meetings with Housing and Wellbeing Coordinator Sage, Jo has started planning for the future.
Initially nervous about joining group activities due to social anxiety, the warm and welcoming setting of The Cocoon has allowed Jo to develop a supportive friendship. “I have a friend who has experienced similar things, and understands how it turned out wasn’t my choice. With her, I don’t feel as alone,” Jo says. “I have finally experienced what a true friend is like.”
Support offered to residents at The Cocoon
What Bridge It offers changes regularly in response to requests from residents, but typical support includes:
- Staff on site on weekdays with a two-hour drop-in to address urgent needs.
- One-to-one case management with a Housing Coordinator. Sessions focus on residents’ individual goals.
- Peer mentoring groups.
- Life skills groups, such as cooking and budgeting.
- Therapies: massage, acupuncture, yoga, music and art.
- Community experiences: birthday celebrations, BBQs, movie nights and meals out.
- Wellness activities: knitting; petting and hanging out with Luna, the trainee-therapy dog; and visiting the gym.
- Education and employment: access to scholarships and assistance through Bridge to Work.
- A range of other services through partner organisations including access to a youth nurse and a private rental access program.
Testimonials from young people Bridge It has helped find accommodation
“It’s definitely a lot safer here. Everything is locked up, and we have our rooms. We’re safe with the people who come in and out; it’s not random people all the time. And the workers make time for us; we have support here when we need it.”
“It’s just nice to live in a place where I don’t feel like I have to sit in my room all day because I’m not friends with anyone… it’s been good having the support and being around other people who are also traumatised.”
“I turn 21 soon and would have lost my support. But I can stay here. The workers here are some of the best I’ve encountered, so it’s been a good living situation, knowing I’m not alone.”
“Home is a place where you feel safe; supported, and comforted, a place where you can be yourself. The Cocoon feels like home.”
“Bridge It is compassionate, interested in me and my life, and what I need. They provide lots of great opportunities for me.”
About the Community Grants Program
Every year the Sisters of Charity Foundation provides grants of up to $15,000 to small not-for-profits across Australia, like Bridge It, that use clever ways to fight disadvantage, loneliness, suffering and oppression. Learn more at Community Grants Program.
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