In Australia, one in four homeless people are aged between 12 and 24 years. And for most young people experiencing homelessness, being without a home often happens through no fault of their own. Hope Street recently shared the story of Jesse* – who, after overcoming some setbacks, now has a bright new future in sight.
Jesse* is 21 and has been living in a Hope Street residential unit in outer Melbourne for the past three years. Facing significant health and personal challenges, he became homeless at age 16 when his family kicked him out after a period of conflict.
“I failed Year 11 because I got diagnosed with diabetes that year. Before the diagnosis I kept falling asleep in class – I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I ended up in hospital for a month,” Jesse explains. “When I got out I tried my hardest to get back into school and to do well, but I ended up failing. My parents didn’t like that.”
Jesse’s parents then enrolled him in another school where he was forced to wear dresses and skirts despite him identifying as a transgender male. “I couldn’t bring myself to [wear the girls’ clothing]. I know education means a lot, but being able to be myself meant much more to me,” he says.
This was the point at which Jesse’s parents kicked him out of the family home. He spent the next two years homeless, couch-surfing at the homes of his extended family and friends. He was sleeping in the school that his then girlfriend attended when teachers discovered him. They allowed him to sleep in an empty classroom before linking him to homelessness services, which led him to Hope Street.
Within two weeks of connecting with Hope Street, Jesse was moved into a residential unit. The site accommodates young people aged 16 to 21 years who are experiencing homelessness. They live independently in their own units and receive case management, counselling and life skills training from Hope Street staff.
When Jesse arrived at Hope Street he had failed Year 11, was unemployed and estranged from his family and had never lived alone. Now, three years later, he has completed Year 11 and Year 12 through VCAL, has his driver’s licence and knows how to live independently. He’s a great cook (he is known as the residential chef) and knows how to clean, though he says he doesn’t like it much.
Socially, things are looking good for Jesse too. He has a close group of friends and has reunited with his family, visiting them regularly. As a gifted self-taught singer-songwriter and guitarist Jesse has now performed at numerous Hope Street events.
When asked what Hope Street means to him, Jesse is clearly moved. “I don’t want to get emotional… I can’t put into words how grateful I am for this place,” he says. “All the workers I’ve met and all the opportunities I’ve been given – like performing at schools or at homeless awareness events – have been amazing.”
“Hope Street was the first place I ever found that really accepted me as someone who is transgender,” he explains. “I could just come here and people were so supportive of me just being myself. Even when I was unsure about it (because of all the stress of my family not accepting me being transgender), the Hope Street team was there to support me. The workers don’t even let other people know that I’m transgender – I’m just me and that’s it. I really like that,” he said. “Hope Street is always there for you, no matter what.”
He now enjoys a tight sense of community with the other young people staying at the residence. “The friends I’ve made here, we’re family now. We go out as a group all the time, at least once per week. We do sleep-overs, we cook together, we play games, play basketball. We try to include everyone.”
What might the future hold? Jesse is currently looking for a job, and while he has experience in kitchens, he’s now keen to land a role in retail. “I’d like to help someone else feel good. People buy clothes to make themselves feel better, and I’d like to be part of that,” he said.
But ultimately, Jesse dreams of making it as a singer-songwriter. “That’s my dream, that’s my goal. With everything that I’ve gone through, it has always been that tiny bit of hope that I might be famous one day that has kept me alive. I cherish music more than anything in the world,” he said.
When asked if he had a message to share with other young people experiencing homelessness, Jesse said: “Be open to help. As a young person you’re not homeless for no reason. You’ve [likely] been kicked out of your home and your family and the neglect you feel is always heavy. But there are people who are there to help. When people are willing to help, just try your hardest to open up and let them help you. They’re not going to leave you or kick you out – they will help you.”
Since connecting with Hope Street, Jesse says his life has changed for the better. “I don’t feel homeless when I’m here. This place is my home. I look forward to getting home every single day.”
*[name changed to protect subject’s identity].
Keen to help Hope Street so that they can continue to transform the lives of young people like Jesse? Visit the Hope Street website for more information on how to get involved, donate and more.