Shakia was 16 years old when she first started couch surfing after a new partner of her parent moved into their family home where personalities clashed.
By 18, Shakia was sleeping in her car, showering at the homes of friends, but still turning up to class at Kingscliff High School.
"It was so hard, I was trying to finish year 12," she said. "Most nights I'd try and stay roughly near school ... brush my teeth at school."
While her classmates were stressing about homework and the looming HSC, Shakia had other worries. "It was just a daily thing of where am I going to park my car ... looking for safe places where I could lock the doors of my car and sleep that night", she said.
Shakia is one of 300 young people aged between 15 and 24 who presented at the Tweed Heads-based charity The Family Centre in the past year, which provides support services for family and youth.
More than 70 of them were between 15 and 17 years old.
One in three was Aboriginal – an increase from one in five the previous year.
The number of young couples without children tripled, and the number of young people with dependents, including single mothers, had also increased.
"These are some disturbing trends," said David Boutkan, the executive director of The Family Centre. "We're concerned about how many of these young people are finding their way to our doors and they're desperate by the time they get here."
According to The Family Centre, high housing prices are driving up homelessness on the NSW north coast and especially in Tweed Heads. It does not help that the cost of rental accommodation is spiralling and there is a chronic lack of social housing.
'Reforms' take away beds
Mr Boutkan said there are signs that next year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games could already be tightening the screws on the housing sector.
"Certainly a lot of people will be coming into the area and I'm fairly certain a lot of landlords will want to take advantage of that.", Mr Boutkan said.
South of the border, NSW Government reforms have also resulted in a shortage of crisis accommodation for young people in the Tweed region.
"We've got just four State Government funded transitional beds", Mr Boutkan said. "Before the reforms in 2014 we had 16 and we're going to ask the Government to restore that number of beds to Tweed Heads.
"What we're asking for is just our fair share. Across the far north coast we are not getting proportionally our fair share of social housing beds for young people."
Crisis accommodation makes a difference
For Shakia, asking for help from The Family Centre made all the difference to providing not just a safe place to live but also the space to realise her future dreams.
"It helped me to finish year 12", she said. "I've also finished a course in nursing so I've got a job working in an aged care facility. I'm looking at going to university next year which I never thought I'd even be able to do."
Now Shakia is sharing her story to inspire others to seek help. "I've met some pretty amazing people that are going through really tough situations as well", she said.
By Joanne Shebridge and Catherine Marciniak
9 June 2017