As a Gooreng Gooreng man, my country is the lands of my ancestors in Central Queensland, and urban Indigenous communities can never replace that connection.
But urban centres have provided me opportunities, services and experiences that otherwise would not be available to me on my traditional lands, or the lands where I grew up.
It is important to acknowledge the impact of being disconnected from country and the role of spiritual homelessness to Indigenous young people experiencing homelessness.
When I first moved to Melbourne, I knew very few people. I was disconnected from my family, community and culture. This was exacerbated by my existing issues, including mental health, substance abuse, housing and poverty.
It was through connecting to the Indigenous community that I found help with many of these issues.
It is within these urban Indigenous communities that Indigenous specific services are concentrated, and where I found culturally appropriate services and where I feel safe.
While Indigenous urban young people experiencing homelessness may still live on their traditional lands, many do not.
Many Indigenous young people suffer spiritual homelessness through separation from country, traditional lore, community and kin. Many Indigenous people become stuck in urban areas due to poverty or inadequate access to health services in their own communities, and this has influenced the rise of ‘parkie’ communities in Australia’s cities and towns.
It is the Aboriginal community controlled health service, or the Indigenous youth hostel, the Indigenous unit at uni, that have provided me with safe spaces.
These are the places where I have had yarns with Aunties and Uncles. They are safe places where I can explain and have people understand my issues through our shared experiences as Indigenous people. It is in these places I receive help. Indigenous urban areas provide opportunities to engage with our community, from NAIDOC events, meeting up with family, to having a yarn down at the health centre.
I believe those working in homelessness and other community sectors should be aware of Indigenous services as possible alternatives when working with Indigenous people.
Not every Indigenous person sees the need to go to an Indigenous service when they need help, and other services may provide better outcomes for their particular needs, and that should also be remembered.
I moved to Melbourne in late 2015 to be with family, but that fell through pretty quickly.
I had few options. To avoid homeless shelters or staying on the street I moved into housing that had a questionable environment.
The substance abuse that I had moved to Melbourne to escape, quickly became a major problem again, and with it came a worsening of my mental health issues.
I did my VCE at a university, and their student welfare unit recommended I check out a local youth crisis service where I got a case worker and we set up goals. They eventually recommended I volunteer for them, which was great for me. I hated being home and put little effort into VCE.
Volunteering and setting goals with my case worker gave me an excuse to leave the house that was actually productive.
The crisis service was mostly a great experience, but it was also why I spent a year not getting mental health support. Being in a city, I was new and feeling isolated. I had seen the mental health worker at the crisis service. I told them I was feeling disconnected from my culture as an Aboriginal person.
However, the mental health worker ignored the reasons I said I was feeling disconnected and assumed it had to do with my fair skin colour. This was an example of their ignorance.
I have never had Indigenous people question my identity because of my skin colour, but it’s common from people who are not Indigenous. I had felt fragile going into that meeting and afterwards, I felt even worse.
It was about a year later that I went to get mental health support and then only because I had been able to find an Aboriginal psychologist.
Seeing that psychologist was one of the best things that has happened to me. I could talk through my issues without having to try and give a cultural awareness course at the same time.
That’s why I will always choose Indigenous services over mainstream ones. I can explain and be understood, as well as feel like a part of a community. I have felt pressured to use mainstream services over the Indigenous ones that I prefer; and at times I felt the services I have received have been compromised due to assumptions made about my race.
Because of the effects of colonisation and its legacy of intergenerational trauma and dispossession, Indigenous youth homelessness is connected to issues of Indigenous poverty and our over-representation in health and justice institutions. The presence of Indigenous health, justice and other services play critical supporting roles for Indigenous young people experiencing homelessness.
Because of this, urban Indigenous communities and services play a critical role in urban Indigenous youth homelessness. They are also critical to other interconnected issues affecting urban Indigenous young people.
Indigenous resistance through the creation of Indigenous urban refuges are crucial to the issue of Aboriginal homelessness, just as all struggles of Indigenous people are interconnected with Indigenous acts of resistance. It is from these centres that Indigenous resistance has given rise to Indigenous community controlled services and spaces where many of us have found refuge, cultural safety and acceptance.
These urban Indigenous communities have also been refuges for Aboriginal young people suffering homelessness. They are places you can connect with other Indigenous people and find culturally safe spaces and services. Many stolen generations people and their descendants have used these places to reconnect with family.
Urban Indigenous communities and services may provide centres of cultural safety but they are also situated in areas that are monuments to the ongoing colonisation of Indigenous people. These Indigenous urban communities have become places of retreat when we do not feel culturally safe and experience discrimination.
It is these urban Indigenous communities and services we go to when the medical treatment we receive is compromised due to our race, or when we experience discrimination walking down the street.
I would like to see mainstream services have a greater understanding of best practice when dealing with a diversity of people, including Indigenous people.
As an Indigenous person, these mainstream services in urban areas are often far-removed from our communities and families. However, they can provide us with greater opportunities and more support. But this support can oftentimes be culturally insensitive and ignorant.
It is a difficult dichotomy for many Indigenous young people — to seek opportunities and support provided by urban centres, while at the same time trying to keep connection to community and culture.
I have often found that mainstream services are not aware of the Indigenous service that is only 20 minutes away and I’ve never had a mainstream service try and link me to an Indigenous service.
I would like to see better communication with Indigenous services.
* Tomasi is a member of the Frontyard Youth Advisory Committee and a past participant of the Youth Action Group. He is currently studying at RMIT.