War ‘difficult to justify’
Tong - guardian angel on the street
"Kids know me on sight ... they talk to me and trust me," says Tong Galika, pictured offering help to two young women
By Damir Govorcin
"Within three days, a homeless kid who finds himself or herself in Kings Cross will be sexually assaulted; within a week the kid will be doing drugs, and by 21 the kid will be dead," says Fr Chris Riley, founder of Youth Off The Streets.
"It's vital to help these kids in the first week they are on the streets."
From 1987-95, Fr Chris walked the streets of Kings Cross each night looking to assist homeless kids, who mainly came from broken homes, had suffered from sexual abuse and were addicted to drugs and alcohol.
He would respond to their needs and help them seek a better alternative through the many Youth Off The Streets programs or by placing them with other agencies.
During the past 12 months, Youth Off The Streets has implemented a StreetWalk program, which operates nightly to maintain a presence in identified hot spots throughout Sydney.
It allows young people to have their needs addressed in their own environment and increases the likelihood of them accessing specialised services.
StreetWalk works in connection with Youth Off The Streets' food van, which operates 365 days a year to feed the homeless and at-risk young people who frequent the known prostitution and drug haunts of the city.
Fr Chris has passed over the reins to StreetWalk program manager Tong Galika, who is ably assisted by more than 100 volunteers.
"It's an exciting program and many people have offered their help and support," says Fr Chris. "The homeless kids are respectful and they have developed a strong rapport with Tong and the volunteers.
"Kids out on the streets need to access paths to better alternatives."
It hasn't taken long for Tong to make an impact on the streets. His imposing size is an intimidating presence for paedophiles who prey on the kids' vulnerability.
On the frontline from Thursday through to Sunday, Tong refuses to be daunted by the size of the task.
The sad and often horrific sights of young kids doing prostitution or taking drugs serve only to strengthen Tong's resolve to help give them a better quality of life.
He has made many friends walking the streets of Kings Cross, Bondi Junction, Waterloo and Redfern and has developed a strong bond with these kids. To them he is their guardian angel.
"Kids know me on sight … they talk to me and trust me," says Tong.
"Trust and credibility are critical when you are dealing with homeless kids.
"You also need to earn the trust of security guards, shopkeepers and police in these particular areas.
"Word can quickly get around if you are not doing a good job."
Tong says it's vital to get to a kid the first week he or she ends up on the streets.
"The first week is important because you don't want them to learn to be self-sufficient," he says.
"They get cocky because they think they can look after themselves.
"They then start to get into petty crime, prostitution and drugs and it becomes difficult to get them out of that situation."
Paedophilia remains a huge problem, he says. The paedophiles befriend the kids, gaining their trust by posing as youth workers.
Police checks are conducted on people who volunteer for the StreetWalk program.
"You often see the same men [paedophiles] doing the rounds," says Tong. "I know what they look like and the cars they drive. These paedophiles abuse these kids, but the kids don't want to report them.
"My job is to keep young people safe from these predators."
Youth Off The Streets is taking the StreetWalk program into schools, educating teachers, students and parents.
"You have to teach the community how to look after kids," says Tong.
"If a kid is being sexually abused or beaten up at home, the streets are an attractive alternative.
"Parents need to take more responsibility for the wellbeing of their kids."