For most 17-year-olds, juggling school with casual work, sport and an increasing social life is difficult enough.
Imagine doing all of that while not having a stable home to go to or worrying about whether you’d have a roof over your head from one week to the next.
That was the reality facing then 17-year-old Wyatt Roberts who, after a family breakdown, found himself living with friends until he was eventually forced to seek help from Moree Area Homelessness Services (MAHS)’ Byamee Proclaimed Place.
Wyatt had previously been living in Newcastle with his mum, dad and nan until his parents separated.
Then in 2014, his mum and nan passed away within a month of each other and Wyatt found himself living with his dad. When he and his dad weren’t getting along, Wyatt moved to Moree to be with his brother.
“I was living with my brother for a few years but we just had a big blew, we weren’t getting along,” Wyatt said.
“I just left one day, I didn’t feel welcome.
“I went to a mate’s and was there for four to six months. After that things were going downhill, I couldn’t live there. They asked me to leave and find my own place to stay, so I went and got help.”
After knowing someone else who sought help from Byamee, Wyatt turned to the local homelessness service for help finding somewhere to live.
“The day [my friends] asked me to find my own place, I got out and went straight there [to Byamee],” Wyatt said.
“In two weeks they helped me get my own place.”
With the help of Moree Family Support and Homes North, Byamee helped Wyatt find a flat to live in and helped provide the basics including a bed, bed linen, cutlery and crockery to get him started.
After securing a casual job in the kitchen at the Post Office Hotel, and more recently, full-time work as a postie for Australia Post, Wyatt has paid off those basics and has since bought himself a lounge and a table.
“I’m all set up now,” he said.
At the time that all this was happening, Wyatt was still in year 11 at Moree Secondary College and said his biggest challenge was getting to school.
If it wasn’t for a drive to finish year 12, as well as help and support from school, the Clontarf Academy and his mates, Wyatt believes he may not be where he is today.
I was going to school, then work and training in between and playing footy on the weekends.Wyatt Roberts
“I really wanted to finish school, my biggest goal was to finish year 12,” he said.
“I was alright at school, just getting there was hard.
“I might have slipped away if I didn’t have help from mates and Clontarf and school.
“Clontarf helped a lot; I was going to training early, and they’ve always got food there, breakfast at training.”
During this time, one of Wyatt’s biggest saviours was sport.
Playing both AFL for Moree Suns and rugby league for Moree Boomerangs kept him busy throughout the week and was something to look forward to.
“Sport was the biggest thing to stay positive and keep out of trouble,” Wyatt said.
“The boys were always good at training and game day. They were good for a yarn and a laugh. I looked forward to playing football.”
In October 2016, Wyatt got the job in the kitchen at the Post Office Hotel.
“I was going to school, then work and training in between and playing footy on the weekends,” he said.
Wyatt has since managed to graduate year 12, is working two jobs and recently got his licence.
The now 19-year-old is also in a leadership role with the Moree Suns, having captained the senior men’s side last year and is co-captain this year.
“I help out where I can, I get the boys to training and game day, do a lot of organising,” he said.
“I have a lot more responsibility and am a role model, especially for the juniors. I also helped out with school programs with AFL NSW/ACT.”
Wyatt believes he is not the only young person in Moree who has experienced homelessness.
He agreed to share his story as part of Youth Homelessness Matters Day 2018 – which is on Wednesday, April 18 – in the hopes of helping others in a similar situation.
“It feels good telling someone and I hope it can help someone else,” he said.
With 43 per cent of Australia's homeless population under 25, youth homelessness is a big issue and one that is often hidden – only three per cent of young Australians are sleeping rough on the street.
MAHS operations manager Jo Williams said ‘couch surfing’ is not uncommon in Moree.
“In Moree there’s a reasonable amount of children that aren’t staying at home; they’re staying with friends or other family members just to be safe,” she said. “There are a lot of youth that can’t be at home, that find it safer to be somewhere else.”
Wyatt’s advice to others who might find themselves in a similar situation to him would be to “not give up”.
“Stay at school and stick it out,” he said.
“For me there was a lot of help there. Don’t be afraid or ashamed, people will be there to help you. There’s a lot of nice people out there you’ve just got to seek it.”
Moree Plains Shire Council, in conjunction with Moree Family Support, Byamee, MAHS, Miyay Birray, Beyond Empathy, Homes North and Winanga-Li Aboriginal Child and Family Centre, have organised a Youth Homelessness Matters Day event to be held at Moree Secondary College Multipurpose Centre from 10am to 2pm.
Special guest, former Parramatta Eels player Nathan Hindmarsh, will speak on the day, while a video of Wyatt’s story will be shown.
There will also be frozen slushies, roast potatoes and nachos provided on the day.