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Sydney Kings help Oasis youth get back on their feet with sneaky gift

Sydney Kings players Angus Glover and Jaylin Galloway present gift-wrapped sneakers for youth at The Salvation Army’s Oasis services in Sydney at Christmas.


Homeless and disadvantaged young people at The Salvation Army’s Oasis services were gifted new sneakers by the Sydney Kings basketball team and JD Sports last Christmas. The youth were also invited to attend a special Christmas night game, the result of a new partnership with the Sydney Kings that raises funds for the Army’s Christmas appeal.

“The Sydney Kings reached out,” says Will Mataka, Program Manager at Oasis Sydney Youth Accommodation Services. “We got to talking about what young people go through and what we could do for Christmas. They invited some of the young people to the game and also donated some shoes.”

Oasis is part of The Salvation Army’s response to youth homelessness, with 20 staff supporting young people in crisis accommodation in Surry Hills and transition accommodation in Darlinghurst. Will has overseen the service’s operations and practice since March last year.

Oasis Sydney Youth Accommodation Services Program Manager Will Mataka.

“Each gift had their name on it,” Will says. “Christmas can be a triggering time for the young people we work with. They can come from broken families, disconnected from social networks. When they get a personalised gift, it’s like ‘wow’. Some were emotional, having that value placed upon them.”

‘Sneaker heads’

While many may think of sneakers as simple footwear, sports shoes have become an important symbol of identity and status in youth culture, with enthusiasts known as ‘sneaker heads’.

“I’m a bit of a sneaker head,” explains Will. “I’ve got a few pairs of shoes and maybe have two or three that remain in a reserved rotation. When our young people opened the gifts for Christmas, they were so overwhelmed and grateful.”

The global sneaker market is predicted to reach US$120 billion by 2026, with luxury fashion brands like Gucci to Balenciaga releasing their own items, but for young people, a pair of sneakers can be an expression of identity and a way to relate to others. After receiving their first pair of Nike Dunks on Christmas Day, one young person was emotional, and it just so happened to be sneakers they had always wanted.

“When I was young, my cousins and I would compare shoes, see who’s got the newest pair. Will says, “It goes back to childhood really. If any of our young people or I have a fresh pair of shoes on, we make a fuss about it. It definitely sparks a conversation and breaks the ice.”

Oasis for youth

The Oasis Youth Services provides emergency accommodation, education and case management for young people between 16 and 24. Many have experienced severe, prolonged and repeated trauma and may have mental health issues or battling substance abuse.

“Homelessness doesn’t discriminate,” Will explains. “Young people can end up here due to domestic violence. Rejection due to sexual orientation. It can be drug and alcohol abuse or neglect. Some have no relationship with their parents. We get the occasional call about a young person couch surfing, sleeping rough on the streets.”

Some young people who came into the Oasis youth services have been referred from other services, hospitals, the juvenile justice system, and even rehabilitation centres. It’s a crucial point for those most at risk.

“It’s a pivotal chapter of life, at the youth stage,” Will says. “They’re on this trajectory of where their life will go. As opposed to someone who’s vulnerable and not supported, early intervention can make all the difference for them. We encourage and promote capacity building with living skills, paying bills, cooking, cleaning and healthy social interactions. We are supporting them in how to take on adult responsibilities, but we get to change it up for Christmas and spark that inner youth spirit.”

Journey to independence

The majority of the young people were gifted sneakers, with 10 in transition accommodation receiving the shoes as well and eight attending the Christmas game. The gifts might seem small but offer some much-needed support given the challenges the year will bring.

“The shoes are something to take on their journey to independence,” Will explains. “They can look back at the year and think, ‘I’ve been able to get a housing app, some identification, maybe get into a course, get my driver’s licence’.”

While a pair of Nikes might be a standard item to a sneaker head, the experience will help these young people sneak ahead on their journey out of homelessness.

“The sneakers won’t solve their problems, but they can restore some of what has been taken,” Will says. “The shoes add to their journey, the value the gift places on them.”


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