Helping young people in crisis feel human again

Community Support

Helping young people in crisis feel human again

Our Night Café is a safe after-hours space for people aged 12 to 25 experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Brisbane.

The Night Café is where young people experiencing vulnerability can feel safe. Photo: Jade Ferguson

"Growing up, I had a hard home life. I never felt like I fit in or that my family appreciated me. I honestly believe I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't found the Night Café," says Nah.

When Nah first walked through the door of our Brisbane café, they were just out of high school, trying to put themselves through university. "I was 17 and struggling to find a community. I wasn't homeless, but I felt very much without a home.”

Our Night Café is a safe after-hours space for 12 to 25-year-olds experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Run by a team of volunteers and youth workers, it opens for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday night, underneath the Brisbane City Hall.

To feel human again

We offer young people free healthy meals, hot showers, toiletries, clothing and activities. It is a place where they can find conversation, community, a listening ear and connections to specialist support services.

"We’re one of the last safety nets in my city for young people who slip through the gaps and have nowhere to go for help," says youth worker Alex McDonald. "Our café is a place where people can feel human again.

"It's a safe place where they can just be kids again for a little while. It's support with dignity and respect, without judgement."

Australian Red Cross youth worker Natasha prepares the menu board before the doors open. Photo: Jade Ferguson

Warmth, freedom and security

Nah, who uses the pronouns they and them, says at the Night Café people wanted them as they were – for one of the first times in their life. "They didn't judge me for how I looked or my life situation.

"When I first came to the cafe, I was what you call a Brisbane city scene kid. When I wasn't at university, I was hanging out in the city with friends. We were outcasts, but we had the luxury of creating our own family and living our lives as we chose. Between us, there was no room for judgement, limitations or abuse – things most of us had faced growing up.

"But we had little to do, even on the best days. And I struggled to find a place where I belonged and could be myself.

"The Night Café was different from anywhere else. And at the end of the day, when I was cold and hungry, it gave me warmth, freedom and security."

At the Night Café, Nah found what was missing in their life. Photo: Jade Ferguson

No judgement, only respect

Nah says they first came for the clean, hot showers, meals and clothes. "But I kept returning because I discovered my real family: the family I chose and who chose me right back."

Night Café’s youth workers and volunteers have helped Nah further their education, made them feel safe, and gave them a community and a sense of purpose and belonging.

"There's always someone with a listening ear. It's a place where people remember your name and care about you. There is no judgement. There’s only respect."

Alex says young people leave home because it’s unsafe to stay, physically or mentally. He has never met a young person who wanted to be homeless.

In Australia’s last census, almost a quarter of those experiencing homelessness were aged 12 to 24. Homelessness is more than living on the streets. It’s sleeping in cars, abandoned buildings, crisis shelters and drifting from couch to couch.

Night Café Youth Worker Alex McDonald talks to a young visitor over a meal. Photo: Jade Ferguson

Many people we support face barriers beyond homelessness, such as family violence and mental health problems. Half are under the age of 18, and half are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples, while 17% are culturally or linguistically diverse.

“Lately, the young people coming to the Night Cafe are facing more extreme crises. And when you are facing one vulnerability, that opens you up to so many others. The challenges young people face can compound and overlap.”

A vital role of the Night Café team is connecting young people with specialist help, such as finding a job, education, legal aid and mental health support. We bring in youth workers from trusted organisations. Recently, a disability employment agency and a First Nations health service visited, Alex says.

“Ultimately, the goal is to empower young people to decide their future on their own terms.

Support that is a lifeline

"When kids walk through our door, they release all the pretence and hardness they need on the streets. Every night, as people sit down to a meal – safe in our space – I see their energy and face change. Everything about them changes.”

At the Night Café, we build positive relationships with young people, embrace inclusion and diversity, and give a voice when there is silence.

“They tell us our support was a lifeline, and we helped them believe in themselves, showed them they could do things they thought impossible, and could turn their lives around,” Alex says. 

"Every young person deserves to feel safe and appreciated for who they are. Everyone deserves a trusted ally in their corner and to know they matter."

These days, Nah is the cafe's arts and activities coordinator, one of the 54 volunteers who help keep it all running. "I'm doing what I can to help a new generation of kids like me feel seen and heard." It's an honour to be part of the team behind the scenes, they said.

"My life outside Night Café is still complicated, both my relationship with my family and my mental and physical health – I've had two spinal surgeries since I was a teenager. And as a volunteer, I have experienced a whole other side to the team's support."

For Nah, the Night Café will always be a special place.

"When I walked through the door 15 years ago, I found what was missing in my life – somewhere I could truly be myself."

Since the café opened in 2001, it has supported thousands of young people. In the last 10 years, the team have served over 52,000 meals and helped more than 5,200 young people.

Every day, Australian Red Cross teams support communities in times of disaster, hardship, isolation and crisis. The generosity of people like you makes the work we do possible.

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