Geraldton Aboriginal Streetwork Corporation is an Aboriginal corporation that has been supporting young people since 1985.
Geraldton’s small central business district runs right up to the foreshore of the Indian Ocean. The white sand, clean air and mild climate makes it an inviting place in the evenings and for decades young people, particularly young Aboriginal people, have congregated there on Thursday nights. Streeties, as GASC is known, used to make a point of going to the foreshore each week to discourage inappropriate behaviour. They had a bus and would drive youth home if they didn’t have transport. Problems with finances, security and personnel lead to a decision by the Streeties board to stop this service in early 2011. Other services stepped in but there was general agreement by local shopkeepers, the police and members of the Aboriginal community that more and more young people were gravitating to the foreshore on Thursday nights and loud, disruptive and occasionally violent behaviour was taking place.
A grant based on an application submitted many months before, plus matching funds from two other bodies, enabled Streeties to launch Night Outreach, to run supervised activities at the foreshore on Thursday nights between July 2013 and March 2014. The Streeties’ management and board were particularly motivated to keep young people safe and out of trouble with police.
Social Dimensions was contracted to assist in developing the operational plan and conduct the participatory evaluation. The evaluation was designed to assist the youth worker team, management and board to learn as they implement the program. Information was collected on:
- Numbers of young people participating, by age and sex
- Numbers of young people taking the bus home
- Interviews with young people at the beginning of the project about what attracted them to the foreshore and what made them feel unsafe
- Interviews with young people at the end of the project about the activities they liked, what they thought of the youth workers and what difference the workers made to their experience of being at the foreshore
- Interviews with shopkeepers at three points during the project about their observations of young people’s behaviour, assessment of change and what should be done.
Participation fluctuated, low on cold nights and during school holidays and high at other times. These were out of the control of the Night Outreach project. The characteristics of the young people participating remained about the same: there was a good mix of boys and girls; half of the young people were aged 13-15 and 30% were younger.
The young people told us that they were safer when the youth workers were around. Where as in the past they relied on older siblings to keep them safe, the youth workers, who knew their families, were trusted to be available and take any action that was necessary.
At the beginning of the project, shopkeepers were very negative about the young people, calling them out-of-control and wanting the police to move them out. By the end of the project, shopkeepers reported seeing inappropriate behaviour less frequently and offered much more positive and inclusive suggestions of what to do about the young people congregating, such as having a pizza party.
Importantly, a number of Aboriginal adults were taking an interest in the activities, accompanying their children and participating in activities. Workers reported more children being picked up by adult family members to be taken home rather than relying on the bus.
Our analysis, conducted in partnership with Streeties and stakeholders, was that the success of the Night Outreach was due to the youth workers’:
connectedness with the young people through shared cultural and family ties;
confidence in delivering the program due to training, a large number of workers who shared the load and worked well together as a team and involvement of another Aboriginal organization which ran the community bus services; and
consistency in attending the foreshore every week, even when numbers were small or after behaviour had noticeably improved.
So, the Night Outreach achieved what it set out to achieve. It restored a public space for people of all ages and ethnicity rather than privileging one group over the other. It kept young people out of harm’s way. It achieved this quietly, with basketball, yarning and just being there.
What happened next is a sad indictment of current policies related to Aboriginal youth. The funding period came to an end and all but two of the youth workers left the organization. Other services intermittently continued to be present at the foreshore but made no change to their ways of operating to compensate for what the Night Outreach team had delivered. The value of having an Aboriginal organisation deliver services for Aboriginal people was lost.