By ALYSSA FRITZLAFF
Morwell has been identified as a suitable location for a Youth Foyer.
Infrastructure Victoria released Victoria’s Infrastructure Strategy 2021–2051 roadmap in mid August, which calls for six new 40-bed Youth Foyers across regional Victoria, including Morwell.
Youth Foyers are intended to provide young people aged 16 to 24, with stable accommodation for up to three years.
The facilities are intended to support youth in transitioning to independent or semi-independent living.
Infrastructure Victoria acting chief executive officer Jonathan Spear explained the purpose of Youth Foyers for young Victorians.
“Youth Foyers are more than just a temporary housing solution, they offer young people personalised support through coaching and mentoring, helping them find meaningful work, build independence and develop valuable life skills,” he said.
“While extensive efforts have been made over the years to revitalise regional cities and attract new industries, youth unemployment remains a challenge for many areas as young people seek to break into relatively smaller job markets.”
While accessing a Youth Foyer, young people are often required to sign up to mutual agreements that require they continue their education, training, or employment.
Morwell has been selected as a prime location for one of these six foyers, due its positioning near public transport and other services such as schools and support services.
The other towns identified are Bendigo, Geelong, Mildura, Wangaratta and Wodonga.
Infrastructure Victoria has reported that the chosen towns have a higher rate of youth unemployment and lower levels of education attainment.
According to the organisation, Morwell’s youth education and unemployment rates surpass the state average.
“In Morwell, 38 per cent of people aged between 20 and 30 years have not completed Year 12, compared with the Victorian average of 17 per cent. Worryingly, up to 9 per cent of school leavers in Morwell aged 15 to 19 are neither in the workforce, studying, nor completing training, compared with the Victorian average of 3 per cent.”
Mr Spear said for Youth Foyers, the “benefits far outweigh the costs.”
“Support networks play an important role in helping young people transition from schooling to the workforce, whether it’s friends, family or mentors, but unfortunately not everybody has access to these networks,” he said.
“Research shows that targeted interventions that support a successful transition from school into work or further study help young Victorians thrive in later life.”
Morwell is already home to a number of youth support services, however the area’s recent housing crisis has been well documented and many youth are still homeless.
Mark Tanti, Manager Community Programs at The Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS) Gippsland said youth homelessness is an issue in the region.
“We know that youth homelessness is an issue here in Gippsland. YSAS workers in Gippsland across all our locations regularly come across young people who are homeless as a consequence of family breakdown and other compounding factors,” he said.
“It’s often the case that young people are told to go find friends or family that they can stay with, but couch surfing isn’t a long term solution. If they are lucky they’ll be sent to St Kilda crisis accommodation which is three hours one-way by public transport.”
YSAS offers support for young people, focusing on alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment, and offering support for young people and families.
“This week we’ve had two young people drop into our office in need of a healthy lunch, cup of coffee and somewhere warm to wait while they charged their phone. They were sleeping rough in a paddock nearby,” Mr Tanti said.
The pandemic has been a tough time for young people who are homeless, and has seen them struggle to access services.
“Getting vaccinated is difficult for young people who are homeless,” he said.
“Many don’t have phones and need to go to great lengths to verify that they’re vaccinated by contacting Medicare, requesting a copy of the certificate to be received by post, and paying two dollars to have a hard copy record. If you’re homeless and without a phone, this is really inaccessible.”
Infrastructure Victoria reports that Youth Foyers are used in other parts of the world, including the United States the the United Kingdom for over two decades, while they have only been operating in Australian for a few years.
Infrastructure Victoria director of Research & Economics Llewellyn Reynders played a major role in drafting the roadmap.
“We went through a process of looking at the data on where there is a greater demand for these types of facilities,” he said.
“One of the things we found while doing our research for the strategy is that this model often works in regional communities where there is a strong sense of local ownership and local community… we see that this model often draws in those community connections.”
Mr Reynders explained how Youth Foyers operate.
“Basically, this is a model of supported student accommodation, it is a specially designed building … much like a university dorm or an on-campus facility,” he said.
“They have 24 hour, round the clock staff available to work with those young people, to facilitate their learning, but also their social concerns and provide a family like atmosphere, where people can be around other young people with similar experiences and develop some of those social connections and networks.”
Quantum Support Services chief executive officer Nicole McDonald is supportive of Morwell gaining a Youth Foyer.
“I think it would be a fantastic thing for both the Morwell community and for the wider Gippsland community,” she said.
Ms McDonald explained that housing is an ongoing issue for Latrobe Valley youth, citing the need for long term support.
“We obviously have a large number of youths who need homes long term, they also are looking for education and support to get their lives on track … it’s both out of potential foster care situations, broken family relationships, and wanting to step out and support themselves,” she said.
“It’s very hard to get properties.”
Ms McDonald also said COVID was a particularly difficult time for many young people.
“A lot of them work in retail or in restaurants … and so they haven’t necessarily had that strong employment opportunity either over the last 18 months,” she said.
She said a Youth Foyer would allow young people to pursue more education and employment opportunities.
“Access to those good schools, opportunities with VCAL, are probably not as extensive where we are as they may be in the city,” she said.
“I don’t think that young people’s lives should end just because they haven’t finished Year 12.
“There’s lots of opportunities to do it later, to do different alternatives, and that’s one of the things that a Youth Foyer can offer, to support young people to get into those different opportunities.”
In an independent evaluation by KPMG it was found that the cost of Youth Foyers is offset by improvements in educational attainment, housing stability and health outcomes, including the reduced risk of offending behaviour, in comparison to transitional housing.
The research also found significant improvements in Year 12 (or equivalent) completion rates.
Infrastructure Victorian reports that Youth Foyers align with existing government reforms, including the Home Stretch and Raising Expectations.
By ALYSSA FRITZLAFF