Spirit of Christmas shines in homeless man Les and hairdresser Kate Young

A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS: Salon owner Kate Young with Leslie, a young man she now counts as a friend and inspiration to all. Five months after she rescued him off the streets in Lavington, the pair will celebrate the blessings that come when you dare to care. Picture: MARK JESSERKate and Les are bickering good-naturedly about herlawn.

“We still have blues about whether the edges get done first,” Kate laughs.

“That’s the extent of the problems in our life;which way the lawngets mowed.”

A beautiful Christmas tree on loan from a friend takes pride of place in the salon owner’s home.

Its festive symbolism stands testament to a life-changing five months for the young man off the streets and the big-hearted hairdresser who rescued him.

“I’m not sure if the tree is more for Les or me,” admits Kate with a tear in her eye.

“I do know I have a beautiful new friend and I’ve experienced the joy of helping someone, whichfar outweights anything else.

Les still has to shake himself at times to believe he’sno longer that hooded, hunched figure with no home or hope.

Only this week he hasembarked on a car wash and cleaning venture based at the back of Kate’s Last Tangle salon in Borella Road.

Customers are already lining up to have their cars detailed while they enjoy a coffee or hair treatment.

Kate Young

The idea for the The Auto Salon Co. was brewed over late-night chats between the pair–and Les’s dreamof driving hisown destiny.

“I wake up jumping for joy and I go to bed jumping,” the 24-year-old says.

“It’s every emotion in one and I still can’t believe I have escaped that…it’s almost too big for words.”

It’s clearly still a struggleto accept the depth of people’s generosity and belief in him.

“I wasso used to things going wrong,” Lessays.

“I’m not used to people doing kind things; youstill end up second-guessing yourself.

“I have done some bad things in my life so for someone like Kate to put so much time and effort in, wellI still sometimes ask why?”

For Kate, the only question is how a system can fail someone so spectacularly.

She’s fought for access to the case files that might help Les piece together his story.

Out of 26 volumes, he’s been privy to 14.

It’s heart-breaking reading.

Les was removed from his mother’s care when he was just two weeks of age because she couldn’t cope.

He was returned at 9am at four weeks old and removed by the end of that day.

His father took over the care but died when Les was seven.

Thatsame night authorities tore him away from his stepmother and brothers; the only family he had known.

What followed was a horrifying 650foster care placements until Leswas 18.

Sometimes he was moved on every second day.

“They’re meant to keep you with family,” Les reflects.

“There arethings about my life I found out in a folder.

“Like that my real name is meant to be Shannon;my mother didn’t register the birth and my father changed my name when I was three weeks’ old.

“When I found that out, well it’s hard …I always thought this was my name, this is who I am.”

It’s impossible to imagine the trauma created by this revolving door of “care”.

A young child at the mercy of a flawed system who became avictim of conflicting medical and psychological diagnoses and treatment.

The more she learns the more Katemarvelsthat Les has survived at all.

She’sscathing in her criticism of those who are meant to be overseeing his welfare.

“The word guardian makes me hysterical –they are no more a guardian than I am an astronaut,” she says.

Kate is grateful she met Les before she read his files.

“The people managing Les have pre-conceived ideas because most of them met him after those files,” she says.

“You can never get out of a system where the files go there before you.”

Kate is even more grateful for the fact she ignored all the phone calls warning her not to get involved with a troubled young homeless man.

“What a terrible thing that would have been,” she says.

On Sunday the pair will sit down and reflect onthe wish-list they wrote when Les first moved in to Kate’s home.

They’ve ticked off every item.

Now Les is 15 hours away from getting his licence, he has found work, he’s got a permanent home and he’s out of the clutches of a system that was crippling him.

More importantly he’s gained the hope for a better life.

On Christmas day Les and Katewill gather with eight friends for a sumptuouslunch at Albury’s Siesta Resort.

They’ll swim in the pool, stay the night and “pretend we’re in Bali”.

It’s a far cry from Les’s last Christmas and he’s painfully aware that there are still too many others struggling between the cracks.

Kate knows you can’t save everyone but you might save someone.

“Don’t worry about trying to fix the universe –just help one person,” she urges.

The Border Mail