On entering the Street University in Caboolture I was met by over 30 young people sitting around together talking loudly and acting as if they owned the place. This, as I soon found out, was the main focus of the center. A place for young people to come 5 days a week where they can feel welcome and comfortable to be themselves.
Anastasia is the main worker at the centre who works tirelessly in order to maintain a schedule of hours that best accommodate the young people of Caboolture. Her drive comes from the fact that many of the young people that hang out at the Street University are sleeping rough and have no where else to go during the day. The young people who frequent the centre provide Anastasia with all the inspiration she needs to continue the important work as she encounters daily attitudinal change, increased confidence and practical life outcomes such as employment. Anastasia tells me that all the workers at the centre have a close relationship with Child Protection case workers in the region and regularly catch up to chat about young people that are on child protection orders. It is the perfect way for case workers to see and interact with clients in a place that is, in the words of a young person at the centre, ‘on their own turf’.
A young man soon approaches as I am speaking with Anastasia and confidently announces himself as her right hand man. He has been at the Street University since the commencement of the service and is learning the ropes at a tender age of 16 years. He has been sleeping rough in the main street of Caboolture for some time now after his father was placed in jail and he had no opportunity to stay connected with his mother. He talked about the centre as place of safety that has taught him about trust and inspired a change in behaviour. He was once a ‘very angry young man’ that resulted in violence with his peers as a ‘bully on the streets’. He has now found a way to release his anger through rapping. Rapping has provided an opportunity to talk about everything that is annoying him in a creative and healing way. There is hope that he will one day take the lead at the centre and support more young people from the area to improve their emotional wellbeing through rap and art. For him the Street University is a place to feel responsible for others and work towards a future that sees all young people in Caboolture feel safe and happy in the place that they live.
Today a group of about 30 young people are involved in a youth week activity. They are learning how to paint on canvas and also working on a graffiti wall with the help of Kasper. Kasper is an art teacher, student, glazier and graphic artist freelancer that attends the Street University once a week to help young people learn the craft of spray painting. He has a very dynamic teaching style that is no nonsense and to the point, “I don’t really care how nuts you go, just aim the the wall.” He tells me that painting got him out of a tight spot when he was younger. He professes to have had every opportunity to be a successful young man with supportive parents but started hanging with the wrong crowd and followed them into trouble. Painting gave him a reason to work hard and a willingness to help other people in difficult situations find meaning and a way out of any trouble.
Caboulture is a place of very high homelessness. There is a group of about 9 young people that sleep rough together in the main street and all of their spare time is spent at the Street University. It has given them a place to chill out while having access to support workers and creative endeavors to move them towards a safer existence. The Street University has a number of activities such as spray painting, music (rap and hip hop)and hip hop dancing. It is these simple activities that force them to leave their differences at the door and work together on creative works.
The Street University is an example of a service that collaborates with young people to provide a space where they feel comfortable and willing to work on improving their circumstances. Everyone I interact with during the afternoon are obviously being themselves because they feel like they can. In the words of the young man working to take over responsibility for the Street University “basically they are like family”. A perfect place for wellbeing to be explored and improved.