The Foyer escape offers hope for youth in need

A RADICAL social strategy adopted by the Victorian government to connect homeless youth to higher education should be used in remote indigenous communities facing chronic levels of homelessness.

Colin Falconer, a world authority on youth homelessness, said Youth Foyers, which provided secure accommodation in exchange for a commitment to study and training, could be the breakthrough needed to help indigenous youth living in dysfunctional circumstances. In an interview with The Age, Mr Falconer, who is also director of innovation at the UK Foyer Federation, said 70 per cent of the 10,000 homeless youth who passed through Foyers found "secure pathways" in education, employment and housing.

''With appropriate cultural changes Foyers could provide the same sort of pathways for Aboriginal youth,'' he said.

According to recent figures from Australia's Bureau of Statistics, indigenous people are 10 times more likely to be homeless than non-indigenous ones. The Salvation Army has reported a 72 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal people seeking housing relief in Darwin alone. The Victorian government adopted Youth Foyers as a central part of its response to homelessness, with a commitment of $30 million to establish three 40-bed Foyers.

Housing Minister Wendy Lovell said the first Ladder Foyer, established by the previous government and run by Melbourne City Mission, had shown that the cycle of homelessness could be broken.

''The research found that nearly three years after leaving the program, not one person who had participated in the program returned to homelessness,'' she said. ''More than 80 per cent had completed year 12, and 37 per cent had completed other qualifications, including university degrees. It's clear the model works.'' Along with Western Australia, Victoria is the biggest operator of Foyers in the nation.

Research indicates that about 33 per cent of Australia's estimated 97,000 homeless are between 12 and 24 years of age.

Mark Bolton, chief executive of the Ladder Foyer, started with money from the AFL Players Association because footballers wanted to contribute something more lasting with their charity efforts. Mr Bolton, who played over 100 games for Essendon, said Foyers were not rocket science.

''You provide safe sustainable accommodation and supports for young people to thrive,'' he said.

He believed there was great scope for the approach to be adopted by indigenous Australia, including the western suburbs of Sydney, where indigenous homelessness had reached unmanageable levels.

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