Growing up, Andy never imagined he would move out of his parents’ home. As one of an estimated 80 Australians living with the rare physical disability Morquio, Andy uses a wheelchair for mobility and has a range of physical characteristics that can make daily tasks difficult to manage. Now, with the help of Evolve Housing, Andy is living independently for the first time in his life, in a state-of-the-art, $2.3 million accommodation complex in Parramatta.
Like an estimated 28,000 other Australians with disability, Andy was held back in his quest to be fully independent by one major barrier – a shortage of appropriate accommodation.
Because his family home was not wheelchair accessible, many of Andy’s friends were unable to visit, and he was prevented from doing basic tasks such as cooking on his own.
Thanks to a partnership between disability service provider Northcott and Evolve, Andy now has a new place he calls home. He has his own apartment in a modern, universally accessible North Parramatta complex, made possible by the Australian Government’s $60 million Supported Accommodation Innovation Fund.
“Living here has given me a new lease on life,” Andy said. “My life has improved in just being able to catch up with mates, and not having to always rely on my parents for help getting to places. I’m also closer to work [as an Information Technology officer] which makes things easier.”
Andy is now able to socialise with his friends more, cook for himself, hang out his own washing, and generally take care of himself, improving his confidence and giving him the independence he sought.
“Not having to rely on my parents was a big thing,” Andy said. “Where I lived [before] wasn’t wheelchair accessible so I was always having to rely on someone around to help me. The kitchen wasn’t accessible so I couldn’t cook for myself.”
Since moving into his new accommodation, which features a small courtyard, Andy has been able to have his friends over more. “There’s enough room to fit a barbecue. I love to entertain when I’ve got mates over – to cook a steak while they’re inside screaming at the TV because their team is either winning or not doing so well,” he said.
“It took me a while to learn how not to make things charcoal, but I got there after a couple of months and things became edible!”
Unsurprisingly, Andy’s relationship with his parents and sister has improved drastically in the two and a half years he has been living on his own. “I’m getting on a lot better with my parents since I moved out of home,” he said. “Mum’s there for me: I can call her if I need cooking advice, without her having to take over for me. Dad also works close by so if I ever need help he can come over after work. I’m getting on a lot better with my sister now that we don’t see each other on a daily basis.”
Despite the extra obstacles Andy faces, he has chosen not to let his disability stop him from living life like most other young men his age. Andy has tattoos, likes hanging out with his mates, is a diehard fan of the Western Sydney Wanderers FC, and even captains its Powerchair Team.
“The greatest achievement for me so far, aside from moving in here and gaining much more independence, would be wheelchair sports and playing Powerchair football for the Wanderers,” he said. “We just won our first championship, which has been huge for us and something I’m really proud of. We’ve got the World Cup coming up next year in Florida and hopefully on the back of what we’ve done this season we can push to get selected for the Australian team.”
For Andy, the future is bright. “I’m really looking forward to what the future holds,” he said. “This place has really broadened my horizons and shown me what I can do independently. I’d love to maybe get a bigger house later and really grow from there.”
Unemployed and suffering from anxiety, Anita was able to turn her life around through the help and support of Evolve Housing programs. Now in a stable position, with a job and a permanent roof over her head, Anita is able to start moving her life forward.
Anita had returned to Sydney after a relationship breakdown and wasn’t able to find a stable place to call home. She suffered from acute anxiety and struggled to even go outside.
For a long period of time she was couch-surfing and moving around each day to find a bed for the night. Thankfully, that all changed when she was linked with Evolve and allocated an apartment of her own.
“I got the call from Evolve and I was so glad to have my own little place. With the security of my own home, I couldn’t be happier,” Anita said.
After settling into her home in Western Sydney, Anita received her first Evolve Housing resident newsletter and read about the barista training course run in partnership by Evolve and Darcy St Project.
While she had a few initial hurdles battling her anxiety to make it to the start of the course, once she was there Anita was hooked. She completed the four-week Certificate 1 Barista training course, which included a mixture of theory and practical work experience in the Darcy St Project café.
Anita said: “I took advantage of all the work experience that was on offer, asked a lot of questions, and really enjoyed the learning experience. There is so much to learn and I keep learning every day, which I love.”
Anita passed through the Barista course with flying colours and developed a passion for her work. Due to her skills and dedication, Anita was offered a paid position as a barista by Darcy St Project and has been employed there since December 2016. After completing her training and becoming permanently employed, Anita’s life has definitely changed for the better.
John Cafferatta, owner of Darcy St Project, said that he is proud of the partnership with Evolve; the opportunity to connect with residents and teach them new skills and employment pathways. John said Anita is an asset to Darcy St Project. “She has fit into our culture and values brilliantly. Everyone brings their own type of swag and personality to the table which has been a great value-add for us at Darcy St Project,” he said.
Anita credits Evolve with providing her with the skills to do a job that makes her happy. “I love being here, I’ve really found what I love and what I want to do forever. I would like to teach eventually. I really enjoy that and I want to give back everything I got out of this course.”
At just 23, Betty has experienced more ups and downs than any young person should. Betty’s remarkable story highlights the importance of providing stable, secure and safe accommodation as a starting point for people to rebuild their lives. Secure housing through Evolve Housing for Youth (EHY), combined with wrap-around support and Betty’s incredible self-determination, has helped her break the cycle of homelessness.
At 16 Betty dropped out of high school. With no support network to fall back on she spent the next few years couch-surfing and living in and out of refuges; sometimes in dangerous places because she didn’t know where else to go.
When she was 18, Betty made the brave decision to go back and finish year 10. Back at school she was connected with EHY. She met with one of the caseworkers and moved into an EHY property. Having a permanent roof over her head was the stability Betty needed to help her finish school. With no parents or friends to encourage her to keep studying, EHY provided Betty with practical support by helping her enrol into senior school and, over a three-year period, supporting her as she achieved her HSC.
Inspired by her EHY caseworker, Betty went on to complete a Certificate, then Diploma, in Community Services at TAFE. EHY helped Betty source suitable work experience and work placements. After a great deal of hard work and dedication, Betty is now proud to be helping others as a youth worker.
“As a youth worker, I have a job that I love. I have a better understanding of what my clients are going through and I feel I can connect with them,” she said. “Every day is a different and new challenge that helps me grow and learn how to help others better. It is so rewarding helping my clients and meeting so many new people, I’m incredibly lucky to love my job like I do.”
Betty is now living on her own; happy and independent. She is still receiving case management support from EHY and is supported by another accommodation provider. She became an ambassador for Western Sydney Homelessness Connect, managed by Evolve, and says it was one of her proudest moments.
Although she was nervous in front of a crowd that included senior politicians, with the support of EHY staff Betty spoke about how the community housing sector can raise the profile of homelessness and housing issues. She used the event as an opportunity to advocate for young people with Geoff Lee MP, NSW Member for Parramatta. She explained that as a teenager, she was unaware of the services available to help her and ended up in an unsafe situation. “Young people can be so vulnerable but they are the future,” she said. “If we want a brighter and more rewarding future we need to tackle the issue of youth homelessness seriously.”
To other young people in her previous situation Betty says: “Don’t give up; keep fighting to be the best person you can be, and use the resources available to help you to do so. Organisations like Evolve are so important, and young people need to be aware that people like the amazing workers at EHY are there to help, and won’t give up on you.”
“Before EHY I had no confidence; I was always worried because I didn’t have somewhere to stay of my own, sometimes staying somewhere dangerous,” she said. “I don’t think I would be where I am today without EHY.”
At 22 years old, Masi has experienced hardships most of us could not imagine. After near death at sea, to incarceration and torture, he is now on track to live a successful and happy life, with the support of Evolve Housing and others.
At just 14, Masi and his uncle fled the constant fear of persecution and the atrocity of war in Afghanistan in search of a life of safety and peace. They escaped in the night, having to leave Masi’s parents behind, and made it to Indonesia before undertaking a treacherous life-threatening boat trip to Australia. They were so desperate to flee, that the prospect of death at sea did not deter them from seeking a life of freedom and hope.
Days into the trip to Australia, the boat was hit by an enormous wave, capsizing the boat. Twelve people died, including Masi’s uncle – the only family he had. Despite watching his uncle die before him, Masi used all his strength and resilience to cling to a floating log for 16 hours until Indonesian fisherman were able to pull him and three others to safety.
Masi was detained for two years in an Indonesian detention facility where he experienced torture, isolation and constant pain. He was alone, without family or friends, trying to make sense of loss, grief, and his dire situation.
A life in Indonesia for Masi was fraught with danger, and with no options left he bravely made another boat journey to Australia. Again, he risked his life for a chance at the promise of a better future. After numerous attempts, he was picked up by Australian authorities and held once again in detention, this time on Christmas Island and then in Darwin for more than 18 months. After 3 ½ long years, Masi’s battle to live in Australia was over, and he was finally granted permanent residency at the age of 17.
After years of uncertainty, Masi is finally finding some stability in his life. Through the support of a number of organisations, including Evolve Housing for Youth (EHY) and Parramatta Mission, he has been able to work towards his goals. With more resilience than most young people could imagine, Masi has overcome all odds to succeed in Australia. He gained employment as a semi professional soccer player; completed a Diploma in Sports and Development; and is qualified to become a certified life coach. He now works as a coach and represents his sport through various youth speaking events.
Despite his family remaining in detention in Pakistan, Masi maintains a deeply positive attitude and dreams of being reunited with his family in a safe place they can all call home.
From homelessness and despair, teenager Roma has now achieved independent living, studying and working part-time, with the support of Evolve Housing for Youth (EHY).
Arriving in Australia in 2012 as a 16-year-old, Roma was excited by the prospects of her new life. Before long however, with no family support or anyone to turn to, and following a series of unfortunate events, Roma’s life was in a downward spiral. She found herself homeless, and eventually contacted EHY for help and a safe place to live.
By the time Roma made the brave decision to reach out for help, she had been homeless for seven months. Roma was offered shared accommodation with three other women; an opportunity she welcomed with open arms. Sadly, Roma was bullied by the three other tenants, and despite participating in conflict resolution workshops, the situation did not improve. Working closely with the EHY caseworkers, Roma was offered alternative accommodation where she could live on her own.
This situation was perfect for Roma as she was studying for her HSC exams. During this time, she managed to secure a part time job she loved, working with young children in an after school care program.
After a great deal of hard work, and with the support of her caseworker, Roma achieved excellent HSC results and enrolled into a Certificate III TAFE course. As Roma’s confidence grew, so did her independence and she became less reliant on her caseworker. Roma independently found shared accommodation with a friend in the private rental market, where she lives today.
Through the support of EHY and her caseworker, Roma was able to find a safe and secure place to call home. Providing Roma with the right opportunities and supporting her to build skills and confidence has meant she can continue her TAFE studies while working part-time. She hopes to one day go to university. By providing holistic support and listening to the individual needs of young people, EHY is helping people to build better lives.
Following the tragic loss of her husband in 2002, Roxana was left to raise her two young sons, one with autism, on her own. Roxana and her boys were originally from Argentina, and the only family they had was each other. Despite many challenges, after becoming a tenant of Evolve Housing, Roxana and her family have been able to rebuild their lives.
Roxana has been an Evolve Housing tenant for about 15 years. Six months after her husband passed away, her youngest son Brandon, aged 2 at the time, was diagnosed with autism with Moderate Intellectual Delay. With her family all living overseas, Roxana found it increasingly difficult to cope. She didn’t feel she had any support or people to turn to and became depressed.
What she did have was a safe and affordable house from Evolve, and financial assistance from Centrelink. Her prior education gave her the strength to carry on and seek help for herself and her family. With housing and financial support, she was able to access early intervention, counselling, doctors, psychologists, therapists, education, friends and a support network.
Thirteen years on, her eldest son Christopher, now in his mid-20s, graduated from high school and went to university. He has followed his dreams and passion for soccer and moved to Argentina. He works for the Lionel Messi Foundation, which was created with the wish that all children should have opportunities to make their dreams come true. Roxana remarried in 2013. Her youngest son Brandon is now 16 and attends the support unit at Baulkham Hills High School (a selective school). He is also an entrepreneur, and with his mother, opened a social club for autistic and mainstream children. ‘Brandon’s Club’ opened in June 2014, with funding from My Choice Matters. In 2018, Brandon received extra funding from Fundability to continue his project, and also secured his first part-time job. Brandon is now an accomplished drummer in a local band and his dream is to become a rock star drummer. Roxana and Brandon are working towards ‘Brandon’s School of Rock’, a space for teens living with a disability to jam with musicians.
Roxana’s story shows that with a little help, support and kindness we can triumph over adversity. “I just want to say thank you Evolve for your support in times of need. We will never forget you!” she said. “Thank you for the affordable and safe housing for my family.”