It was his cat he worried about the most.
"She's been my priority because she was my rock when I was having a hard time," explains 18-year-old Luna.
"I was laying in bed with my cat starving ... I just wanted a roof over her head where she was safe, secure and well-fed."
Sanctuary for a pet may not, at first, form part of the big picture for someone at risk of succumbing to homelessness.
But what defines 'home' differs across the vast landscape of individual experience.
And that's been the point of the recent Yes Unlimited shopfront campaign in Albury's West End Plaza during national homelessness week.
The project, led by youth in the organisation's Changemaker program and on display throughout August, collated community responses to the question: What does home mean to you?
In the hand-written notes on the little origami houses in the empty shop window, came the heart-warming answers:
"Home is a place where I can go to hide away, and be safe in a familiar environment." (14-year-old boy)
"Home is a place where I can feel safe and respected." (60-year-old female)
"Home is a place for belonging, and impacts my self-worth." (32-year-old male)
"Home is being surrounded by people you love, somewhere you are always welcome." (43-year-old female)
The aim of the project was to educate the community that home means more than a roof and being homeless means more than sleeping rough.
In May this year, the Border Mail reported a critical shortage of housing and escalating rental prices was triggering a catastrophic level of homelessness across the Border and North East.
Youth were cited as among the most vulnerable in this deepening housing crisis.
For Luna, a breakdown in family relationships had first pushed him to the brink of homelessness in 2019.
He was a keen student at the top of his class but as his living arrangements deteriorated so did Luna's grades, mental health and self-esteem.
Desperate to escape an untenable situation, he applied for property after property, attended multiple inspections and was consistently declined a tenancy.
Teetering on the edge ... not quite among the statistics but without a 'home' nevertheless.
In a voice that is quiet and well-spoken, Luna admits he was "legitimately a month away" from being homeless.
Officially then in crisis.
Officially then knocking on the doors of emergency providers with potentially nowhere for him to go.
An initiative that starts at the other end of crisis.
A model, pioneered in Geelong, that harmonises schools, support services and health providers designed to catch young people before they fall - out of school and into homelessness.
Albury became one of two pilot sites (the other Mount Druitt).
Led by Yes Unlimited, the project incorporates Albury, James Fallon and Murray high schools, headspace Albury-Wodonga, Albury Council, Albury Community Mental Health and the NSW departments of education and communities and justice.
It's a shift from a crisis-driven system to an early intervention approach.
And it has cradled Luna and hundreds of youth in the arms of its safety net (in Term 2, 2021 the project had 140 students on its books).
"These guys literally caught me," he says.
"I felt I had something to rely on for the first time in a while."
Luna came to the attention of The Albury Project as part of an annual survey, which screens 2000 students in years 7 to 12 at the three schools for indicators of homelessness, school disengagement and mental health.
He was assigned a case worker to help co-ordinate the tiered supports he needed and has spent the past two years ticking off the goals of his case plan.
At the core of the project is providing support for a young person to navigate the complexities of accessing services and avoid bouncing between arrangements that can exacerbate the risk of homelessness, according to project co-ordinator Bec Glen, of Yes Unlimited.
For Luna that involved help with facilitating meetings and maintaining connections with school support staff, an occupational therapist, psychologist, NDIS support worker and other informal support networks.
It involved help with transport to and from appointments without missing too much school.
It involved help with accessing scholarships and funding for school uniforms, a desk and computer accessories to assist his transition to independent living, particularly through COVID-19.
It involved help with budgeting, filling out Centrelink forms, shopping and driving lessons.
He has completed the Rent It Keep It program, an opportunity to learn about renting in the private rental market and his responsibilities as a tenant.
He has been able to explore his interest in photography and develop social connections through Yes Unlimited's mentoring program and The Hive Youth Resource Centre in Lavington.
"The support of The Albury Project has enabled (Luna) to stay safe and secure while living independently, continuing with his education, and developing connections in the wider community," Ms Glen says.
Luna's main goal is to finish Year 12 "as best I can" with plans to eventually study chemistry, biology or business at university.
He says without the assistance of The Albury Project, he would not be where he is today.
"I wouldn't be looking to the future in any capacity," he states simply.
He credits his incredible caseworker with helping him juggle the load, likening her role to one of a parent, "but more professional".
"You've made my life what it is today and I'm happier than I've ever been," Luna says.
But Ms Glen says the hard work was all done by this resilient young man, who was committed to finding his way through.
"That's the beauty of this project; it works with individuals to build on their strengths and aspirations while scaffolding them through their challenges," she says.
Albury MP Justin Clancy says "as a caring society we want to do all we can to help people find a safe place to call home".
"The NSW Government is a keen financial supporter of The Albury Project ... I appreciate that this co-operative effort on homelessness is doing great work in our community.
"At a state level, the NSW Homelessness Strategy has allocated $4.7 million to expand the use of universal screening and supports for homelessness and risk of homelessness, from 2018 to 2022."
Our organisational goal is future generations without homelessness by 2050.Bec Glen, Yes Unlimited
At Geelong, the number of adolescents entering the Specialist Homelessness Service system declined by 40 per cent, while the number of students leaving school early reduced by 20 per cent between 2013 and 2016 thanks to the program.
At Albury, it's still early days and the data is still being collated for the project but "the signs are positive", according to Ms Glen.
"At YES, our goal is future generations without homelessness by 2050," she says.
"We can't achieve that by only working at the crisis end."
Ms Glen says it's really important for the community to understand that homelessness is not just rooflessness.
It includes couch surfing, overcrowding and temporary or crisis accommodation.
It can be triggered by relationship breakdown, instability in the home, poor mental health, social disadvantage and family violence.
"A home isn't just a roof over your head - it is about safety, stability, self-worth and belonging," Ms Glen states.
For the past year Luna - and his beloved cat - have been living in a clean, secure cabin at a local caravan park.
The staff are friendly, he's safe and he has what he needs to live independently.
He knows he's one of the lucky ones.
- Support the movement to end homelessness by signing the Everybody's Home petition: http://everybodyshome.com.au