Raw Potential goes mobile to empower street kids

Katrina Condie 11 June 2021
Woden Community Service CEO Jenny Kitchin and Raw Potential chairperson Paul Kane

Woden Community Service CEO Jenny Kitchin and Raw Potential volunteer chairperson Paul Kane are pleased to have teamed up to help youth on the streets in Canberra. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

While many youth services shut up shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, Raw Potential hit the streets of Canberra at a time when the city’s most at-risk kids needed them.

The 35-year-old charity organisation purchased a van in winter 2020, offering a mobile outreach service to the region’s vulnerable youth.

It delivered food, swags, sanitary items and provided access to an outreach worker at a time when the kids couldn’t get to the shops or access other support services.

Raw Potential volunteer chairperson Paul Kane says many homeless youth and at-risk kids felt quite isolated during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Our outreach workers would drive the van around, drop off bags of food, talk through the window and try to maintain that relationship with the kids,” he says.

“Raw Potential stepped up when a lot of providers closed down.”

Now, Raw Potential is set to have more helpers on the ground and more services available to at-risk kids by partnering with Woden Community Service (WCS).

Paul says the transition to the new service provider is exciting for both organisations.

“Our clients will have access to a broader range of services and more outreach workers,” he says.

“Each client has access to five or six services that we provide and we’re finding that more young people are requiring more support as their needs become more complex.

“WCS is local, has been operating in Canberra for 50 years, and has a significant footprint in terms of the service offerings and staff that we can call on to fill the gaps.”

Paul says these are cases of school-age kids finding themselves in at-risk situations by potentially selling themselves on websites and apps, such as Tinder, just to find food, a shower and, hopefully, a safe bed for the night.

He says outreach workers are dealing with kids escaping violent homes, many different types of drugs and severe mental health issues.

The van provides a mobile drop-in centre, with access to outreach workers as well as laptops, sleeping bags and food.

Paul says working with WCS will help build a strong rapport and trust with clients.

“It can be a slow and difficult process and can take many months before we build up enough trust for kids to tell their story and seek help,” he says.

Paul says during the past 35 years, Raw Potential has helped more than 10,000 local at-risk kids tap into their potential and get back on track.


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“Our mobile outreach workers go out into the community and engage with young people who cannot, or will not, access services, working with them over time to reconnect them to mainstream society,” he says.

“These kids have so much potential and just need someone to believe and support them to release it.”

Paul says Raw Potential recently helped a teen who was heavily using meth and living in a tent in Tuggeranong, who is now ‘clean’ and drug-free.

“He contacted us asking for help and we responded immediately,” he says.

“He explained that the winter was hard, that meth and weed supplies had dried up or become more expensive during the COVID-19 shutdown, and having had to go cold-turkey a few times, and seeing the situation he was in, that he wanted to stop using and get a proper place to live.

“He is now safe and warm. The gentleman he’s living with was formerly a tradesman and is teaching him some basic skills that will hopefully help him get a trades apprenticeship in the near future.


READ ALSO: Helping couch surfing teens return home


Paul says on any given night, nearly 500 young people are couch surfing or living on the streets in Canberra, and people can help them by donating to Raw Potential.

Last year, the organisation gave away $5000 worth of food and Paul says it costs up to $160,000 per year to keep one outreach worker and the van on the road, covering the cost of insurance, food and other items.

“To survive, we rely on these fundraising events as well as our generous strategic corporate partners such as the Synergy Group, Snow Foundation, Chappell Foundation, Law Society and Monarch Building Group to generate much needed funds,” he says.

“We are very appreciative to those generous Canberrans who choose to make one-off or regular donations, which are vital considering the average cost of providing five or six services to save one at-risk young person is only $449.”

Raw Potential Canberra actively provides outreach services to at-risk young people, aged 12-25, in an effort to help those facing homelessness and violence.


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