1 July 2021

How wonderful it is to have a safety net when it comes to Mental Health and Homelessness.

Image: Vee flying high on the trapeze

TRIGGER WARNING: Self harm mentioned in the below story.

When she was 17, Vee Camacho was involved in a head on collision on a busy Perth road which could have altered her life forever.

She was, as many teens do, sitting cross-legged in the front passenger seat of the car when the vehicle was in a serious crash. As she was pulled from the wreckage by first responders, they remarked that had she been sitting in a different position, her legs would have been crushed.

Vee’s life altering moment was not then, it would instead come three years later, when at 19 she entered Life Without Barriers' Ngatti House – a program for people aged 17-22 experiencing mental health issues and homelessness. But what led Vee to this moment?

Struggling with mental health issues for most of her youth, it wasn’t until Vee visited the school counsellor in her teens, that she spoke about her struggles with anxiety and mental health.

Vee said she felt like she didn’t fit into her vibrant, and often loud Portuguese family, but felt a very deep loneliness in wondering what part of the world she belonged to.

The following years she would battle issues with alcohol and skip school as the trips to hospital youth wards became more frequent while the case workers came and went.

During this period, Vee had a maternal figure in her next-door neighbour Joan. From the age of 10, Joan and her home became a second home and respite for her. Joan provided the loving balance and attention Vee so often desired.

Over those tremulous teen years, the contact with Joan became less and less and when Joan died from cancer when Vee was 19, a darkness set in.

Overwrought with immense sadness, Vee was consumed by the guilt she had not been there for Joan when she was unwell as Joan had been for her. Two weeks after Joan’s funeral, Vee attempted suicide and was hospitalised for four months. Sadly, it wouldn’t be her only attempt.

Eventually, with the care and support she received in hospital, her motivation returned, and Vee made a pact with herself - she wasn’t just going to give life a chance, she was going to give it 100%.

It seemed upon her release from hospital; she would have nowhere to go. Women’s refuges and backpackers’ hostels were recommended, but by her admission, were a “very scary option for someone with anxiety at that age.”

It was then a social worker put Vee in touch with Ngatti House. Vee describes the process like a job interview – albeit an empathetic one which called on her deep commitment to the program.

“To be seen was a big thing."

"For such a long time I didn’t feel validation. Ngatti provided so much assistance for any kind of problem I had. There were a lot of things they did that may have seemed small at the time but made a really big difference,” Vee said.

Image: Vee sitting in a car wearing a checked shirt.

Vee went into the Ngatti House after years of self-harm, mental health issues and suicide ideation – she’s lost count of the hospital admissions over the years. Vee shares her experience at the home.

“My time there met needs I didn’t even know I had, it showed me more possibilities.' She said.

"It brought me so much more happiness, I could just praise them [the staff] for ages and ages.”

Life Without Barriers Ngatti House Senior Support Worker Matthew Partridge says, “The individualised support that each young person receives is what makes Ngatti so unique."

"Every young person sets their own goals that they would like to achieve, and they are supported to achieve them. Ngatti is a warm and welcoming environment – it does not feel like a hostel at all, more like a giant friendly share-house!"

"Young people feel safe and comfortable very quickly, which makes it the perfect setting to work on recovery.”

During her 10 months in the program, the team assisted Vee in securing her learners driver’s licence, although she still admits her confidence on the road is a work in progress.

Life Without Barriers also helped transition her into permanent housing with Housing Choices WA, where she still lives today.

Her powerful support network has inspired her to pay it forward, working with RUAH community services and ‘Youth Reach South’ supporting and empowering vulnerable and disadvantaged people to create positive change.

Vee has been studying community services for the past year; in a month she will have completed her Certificate lll and will aim to complete level llll next year, paying it forward.

When Vee successfully completed her time at Ngatti House, the caregivers asked what her personal goals were, and she channelled the child inside of her who loved the circus and dreamt of being on the flying trapeze.

What she jokingly requested as pure fantasy, the Life Without Barriers Ngatti House team made happen as a farewell present.

“It was the coolest thing ever,” Vee explained.

The smile on her face in the photos taken that day said it all.

Mental Health services

Life Without Barriers offers a number of mental health services in select communities across Australia

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