By David Schout
A CBD youth homelessness service is building a world-first 24-hour facility to assist Melbourne’s most vulnerable young people.
Frontyard Youth Services on King St, with the help of government and corporate funding, is constructing an 18-bed accommodation centre to accompany its existing multi-service facility.
The current facility supports young people aged 12 to 25 who are either experiencing (or at risk of) homelessness, disengaged or simply requiring support.
It will continue to provide its current services (including legal, health and Centrelink services) as well as having what it says is the first facility of its kind in the world.
“We’ll become a 24-hour service and be able to work really closely with police and child protection,” Frontyard operations manager Rob Hosking said.
“There might be a young person that gets in a fight with mum and dad at three in the morning and the police think ‘what do we do with them?’ This is the place they would come. They’d have accommodation and we’d work through those issues.”
Having been with Frontyard for more than 10 years, Mr Hosking said this sort of facility was much-needed in Melbourne, especially as they have observed a 20 per cent increase in young people using their service in the past year.
“It’s those really chronic, at-risk, high-degree of personal vulnerability young people that we’re focusing on, and trying to disrupt their experience of homelessness,” he said.
“Hopefully that ensures they don’t become the next entrenched rough-sleeper living on the streets of Melbourne. That’s the project in a nutshell.”
Frontyard has been in operation for 29 years and aims to provide a “multi-disciplinary” service. That is, when a vulnerable young person walks through its doors, it aims to provide in-house assistance and ensure they aren’t forced to bounce to and from often confusing bureaucratic bodies.
“I’ve seen Frontyard move from being a small service up to the four storeys that it is today,” Mr Hosking said.
“We’re very big around empowerment, upskilling people with the necessary skills and information that they need to go and find a job and housing. Many of the young people that come to Frontyard have missed out on the important living skills that most of us learn with our parents and in our family homes. Things like budgeting, cooking, how to apply for a job and how to access housing.”
“The reoccurring theme for most of them is that they’ve experienced some form of trauma at one point in time.”
It sees on average about 1800 young people a year (individual cases), and on average 40-60 walk through the door every day.
“The numbers have remained fairly constant, except this year. In the last 12 months we’ve seen a 20 per cent increase in the amount of times young people visit this service, which we’re still trying to get our heads around.”
Mr Hosking could not comment on exactly why this was the case given the data was new but said, anecdotally, the rise was likely because the number of young people breaking the cycle of homelessness had decreased, rather than the number entering homelessness had increased.
“In the past it was achievable to access shared housing and private rental on a Centrelink wage. We’re now finding that’s almost impossible,” he said.
Mr Hosking said the minimal increases in Youth Allowance and other Centrelink payments was crippling vulnerable young people looking to break free of the homelessness cycle.
He said despite a rise in CBD rough sleepers – something that had given rise to awareness and funding for homelessness – young people were adept at finding temporary accommodation such as couch surfing.
“While there’s definitely been a more visual presence of people sleeping rough in the CBD we would say that those people account for a very small percentage of people that are actually experiencing homelessness in Melbourne. The majority of people who are homeless are hidden,” he said.
Frontyard’s new $8 million facility is due for completion in early 2019 and Mr Hosking paid tribute to the various levels of government funding and corporate donations that have made it possible.
“I’m proud that this state and our government is really prioritising this issue and wanting to do something about it,” he said. “It’s nice we live in a city where people do have an altruistic lens on things and they want to do something to help this really challenged and disadvantaged cohort of people.”
By David Schout