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Our Impact in 2023

A message from our Chief Changemakers

The demand for our assistance has now hit historically high numbers over the last 12-months, with no sign of abating. Yet, every single person at Youth Projects has stepped up to meet this enormous challenge, without exception.

As of today, Australia needs at least ten times more affordable housing than is being promised, while in the meantime, more people will become newly homeless.  Unless a deeper understanding of the root causes of homelessness are considered and included in our nation’s response, we will fail to end homelessness.

Homelessness and poverty are inter-related problems, and both are preventable.

Youth Projects sees, firsthand, the need for holistic, connected solutions to achieve the twin aims of prevention and recovery.

The last 12-months have seen our largest expansion in decades, taking our life changing impact into communities with the highest risks of entrenched poverty, illness and homelessness. We are already seeing the major, positive impact of our work – and I could not be prouder of our teamwork. We will continue rising to these challenges, reflecting our long-held practice of turning no one away from our doors. 

Melanie Raymond OAM, Chair

Innovation is often seen as just problem-solving, but it’s far more than that in the social economy. The problems we face require an insatiable appetite to change the world. And that’s what we’re doing. We don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake, we’re expanding because we must.

Our post-pandemic reality is higher housing stress, higher unemployment, increased school disengagement, increased family violence, increased pressure on the health system. It’s almost a perfect storm when coupled with the state of our economy and the cost-of-living crisis.

The Living Room and our Community Health services are busier than ever. We re-developed The Living Room just in time to deal with the massive influx of people experiencing poverty and homelessness. Once helped during the pandemic to get a hotel room and increased income support, hundreds (if not thousands) of people have since returned to the streets.

Mental health waitlists are at an all-time high and we now have a youth mental health crisis on our hands. School leaver and refuser rates have never been so high, so, we’re doing something about it. We’re rolling our new youth outreach services across Melbourne, and we are increasing the number of mental health nurses and AOD counsellors at all our hubs.

Now we are left wondering, all the progressive solutions to lift income support and increased housing during the pandemic, was for nothing? We saw how we could almost end poverty overnight, and yet we have let it return to where it was before the pandemic.

I am super proud of a wonderful year, but it is bittersweet – if ‘the system’ worked, would we need to be this busy?

Ben Vasiliou, CEO

Growth in 2023

Youth Projects experienced an extraordinary period of growth this year, marking a historic milestone in our journey towards breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Our growth in 2023 re-affirms our commitment to addressing and improving the mental, physical and social needs of young people and people experiencing homelessness for decades to come. During the year, Youth Projects:  

Co-designed and opened three, fit-for-purpose Youth Hubs that are positioned to provide holistic support services to address the local issues faced by young people across 14 new communities, and respond to increasing client growth.

Opened our fourth social enterprise café at the Victorian Pride Centre and launched The Little Social Catering Co. further embedding our holistic model of care and creating more opportunities social and economic participation for young people.

Re-opened The Living Room, setting a new, global standard for homelessness and community-led health services and improving vital services, from healthcare, social support to facilities to address the most basic needs like food, clean clothes, and showers.

To enable long term sustainability and focus resources on services that lead to the greatest possible outcomes for young people and people experiencing homelessness. Across six domains of service, our programs and services are continuously guided by a comprehensive outcomes and impact framework focussed on five core goals.

Strategic social change

Our six domains of service

Through judgement-free services and a holistic model of care, we are opening pathways out of poverty and homelessness that lead to...

Our people

Every day of the year, our frontline warriors and change makers are committed to breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Our focus on talent with lived experience enables us to create an empathetic and understanding environment that caters to the diverse needs of our service users, and saw us independently certified as Great Place to Work. Our people get it.

Amplifying the voice of lived experience, through our people…

Our team of changemakers and frontline warriors are guided by self-determination and a strengths-based coaching model to create (genuinely) meaningful change.

We embrace lived experience in our workforce, recognising that diverse perspectives stemming from personal experiences enrich problem-solving, empathy, and service quality. In doing so, our people start from a point of understanding the challenges our clients face.

Amid the ongoing, long-term fallout of the pandemic and lockdowns, we saw a rise in co-occurring complexities as young people struggled with poor mental health and confidence, underdeveloped social skills, financial and housing insecurities, and a lack of social networks – all critical factors that impact personal development and wellbeing. This underscored the need for our holistic approach, addressing intersecting needs for thousands of young people across Melbourne. 

Our positive impact in 2023 stemmed from our personalised approach, recognising that one size doesn’t fit all. We tailored plans to individuals to address their unique barriers – whether they lack work experience, confidence or supports, require skills training, or face personal challenges like mental health concerns. We meet young people where they are at, literally.

By proactively addressing these hurdles through individualised coaching and support services, we have empowered young people with support to thrive in all aspects of their lives.

Our assertive youth outreach program is one of the only accessible services ensuring young people are supported amid the youth mental health crisis and blown out waitlists. Yet, this life-saving program exists without secure, long-term funding.

Our comprehensive post-placement and outcome supports helped young people confidently navigate their new chapter and experience improved physical, mental and social wellbeing.

A special thanks to Hume Youth Services, Merri-bek Council, Erdi Foundation and Franklin Templeton for their support across our youth outreach programs.

of young people were experiencing mental health challenges




Young people often face various challenges, from lack of previous work experience and gaps in skills, to personal and relationship challenges, and mental and physical health concerns. By addressing these barriers upfront through individualised coaching, skills training, and access to support services, we ensured young people were better equipped to sustain meaningful employment or re-engage with education.


young people engaged in our jobs and training programs







We know that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, so we empower each young person with a tailored, personalised plan to help them realise their full potential – and redefine opportunities for young people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.


Sharni was 17, out of home, alone, and with very little support. Struggling to get a job because she didn’t have enough experience, or enough training – on top of that, facing battles with her health and relationships. But one opportunity changed Sharni’s life.

Celebrating young voices and talents

Gaining insights through immersive experiences

Never underestimate the power of young voices

After achieving their goals, our involvement doesn't just end. We stay engaged, providing support to alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies the beginning of a new chapter, contributing significantly to sustainable outcomes for young people.


Following a severe car accident that severely impacted Casey’s physical and mental wellbeing, leaving him unable to work and on the brink of homelessness, he was determined to persevere and get back on his feet. Through the combined efforts of multiple Youth Projects programs, Casey received the supports he needed to overcome his barriers.

We’re growing our Discovery Day initiatives to establish a pipeline for potential mentorship and employment opportunities to catalyse positive change. 

Determined to change the fact that young people are alienated from high-quality job opportunities within large corporations, we set out to collaborate with corporate partners who shared a deep passion for empowering young people.  Driven by a common purpose to support young people, Youth Projects teamed up with beauty industry giant, L’Oréal, to challenge the status quo and redefine opportunities for young people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and launch our ‘Youth Discovery Days’.

With L’Oréal’s expertise spanning various aspects of a global brand, including beauty services, sales, marketing, warehousing, retail services, account management, and corporate services, young people had the chance to engage with the L’Oréal team and explore an array of job functions.

The L’Oréal Discovery Day was made even more memorable with personal grooming insights, networking opportunities, interactive workshops, and generous product giveaways, culminating a powerful reminder to young participants of their worth and potential. Some participants even secured employment with L’Oréal off the back of the Discovery Day.

The Little Social

Boasting a fresh, new experience for customers across three bespoke and socially conscious cafes (plus our newly launched The Little Social Catering Co.) enabled a more holistic and integrated approach to our social enterprise programs.  We re-launched a new trainee program to better support young people into sustainable employment – Here4Hospitality – a training program designed for young people living with varied abilities in collaboration with our Disability Employment Services and other jobs and training programs. 

Here4Hospitality supports young people living with varied abilities through 4-week program to build self-confidence, gain key employability skills and genuine work experience in a supportive environment. Participants then have an opportunity to progress into a 12-month, supported training program to attain a Certificate III in Hospitality at The Little Social. 

Through individualised mentoring and tailored support plans we work – together – with young people through the short and long term to overcome barriers and achieve sustainable job and training pathways based on each young person’s goals and aspirations.

We also expanded our peer support model to include paid staff within the program – a unique aspect allowing previous participants to support, mentor and support new participants to overcome challenges. This approach is championing neurodiversity, breaking down stigma, and paving the way for a more equitable labour market. 

There was nothing little about The Little Social’s impact in 2023…


young people participated in our trainee program


of trainees  continued into sustainable employment


coffees served at The Little Social cafes


pay-it-forwards shared at The Living Room


profits re-invested back into homelessness services


of carbon offset across our cafes

96% of young people agreed that the program provided them with valuable work experience. Plus, 86% of participants now know how to reach their work goals!

Introducing… The Little Social Catering Co.

We’re taking catering to a whole new level of culinary delight, as The Little Social Catering Co. takes centre stage in Melbourne’s vibrant food scene. We’re seeing a significant shift towards back-of-house hospitality roles due to the anxiety associated with customer-facing positions. So, we responded.

Built on the success of The Little Social cafes, our newest offering creates expanded opportunities for young people and promises to bring the same quality and warmth from our cafes to events and special celebrations.  

Our vision is not just about offering high-quality food – it’s about creating more opportunities for young people to gain job skills and experience. Young people will get a chance to develop valuable skills in both front and back-of-house operations, working closely with our Head Chef, Here4Hospitality and Kitchen teams, to ensure that every order is a masterpiece of fresh, seasonal and locally sourced delight.  

But that’s not all… With a new menu and online store, customers can easily choose from a range of fresh, seasonal, and sustainable menu options, catering to various dietary requirements. Our menu is aligned to the Victorian Government’s Healthy Choices Framework and all packaging is bio-degradable and environmentally friendly. Plus, we deliver right across metropolitan Melbourne and are collaborating with major organisations and government to collectively achieve social impact goals.  

The Little Social Catering Co. is more than just a catering service – it’s an extension of our commitment to creating a holistic experience for young people while satisfying the appetites of socially aware foodies across Melbourne. 

To maintain our holistic model, profits from The Little Social are re-invested back into critical homelessness services at The Living Room.

The Living Room re-opened its world-class centre in Melbourne as homelessness rises, nationally.

As Melbourne grapples with a dire homelessness crisis, with rates three times higher than the rest of Victoria, a 42% surge in CBD rough sleeping from 2012 to 2019, and an 11% increase in service demand at The Living Room over the past five years, now was the time for a transformative response.  

Following a significant refurbishment of our Hosier Lane centre in 2022, we re-opened the doors to a new global standard for community-led services enabling significant social and economic impact for thousands of people and change homelessness in the heart of Melbourne. 

Within mere months of re-opening the doors to our transformative new facility, we experienced a 31% increase in service access and a 72% increase on new people accessing our health and homelessness services.

The opening of a dedicated new women’s lounge also resulted in a 153% increase in female access to services, and three-fold increase in referrals to family violence services. An upward trend that continued as the year progressed. 

We experienced an 11% increase in the number of people accessing The Living Room – the number of females presenting, nearly doubling.




We experienced 12,497 client visits at The Living Room in the past year – with the number of people dropping-in each day more than doubling!








Responding to rise in females experiencing homelessness

As part of The Living Room refurbishment, our female service users shared a resounding need for a dedicated, female-only space to provide respite from the chaos of rough sleeping and give females the opportunity to speak directly with the team about their immediate concerns.  

We listened, and we acted.

We co-designed and created the Women’s (‘Badjurr’) Lounge, which now provides a safe environment where female service users can put their own experiences front and centre – removing the pressure and trauma wrought by social conditioning experienced in all-gendered environments. 

By fostering a sense of safety and trust, such spaces empower women to share their stories, seek guidance, and access specialised resources and services that cater specifically to their needs. Women have been utilising the new lounge to access support and interventions from services available at The Living Room, as well as holistic referral services with collaborative agencies such as The Orange Door, Djirra and the Victoria Police Family Violence Unit.  

Since opening the Women’s (‘Badjurr’) Lounge, the number of females presenting to The Living Room has increased 153% – with more than 1 in 4 people presenting to the service now being female.  

But it’s more than just the immediate situation. It’s about the whole person.

A key driver of improved wellbeing and resilience is social connectedness. It’s a vital element of the services available at The Living Room, ensuring people are able to maintain social connectedness with each other, with our team, with family, and with friends.  It goes deeper than that though – it’s about a greater sense of belonging, and creating a space that feels safe enough to be home.

It’s more than just services to me.

It’s being able to come to a place that I like and the staff listen to what you have to say. That’s really important to me. I always feel welcome, no matter how long it’s been between visits.

– Friend of The Living Room







Grassroots social inclusion

This year we launched our ‘Peer Volunteer’ program to create opportunities for people accessing The Living Room to participate in a regular roster of various tasks including shifts in our social enterprise café (The Little Social), guided tours of the new space with visitors, plant maintenance, and other general ‘homely’ duties.

This initiative has created an opportunity for social interaction and sense of responsibility, learning new skills, boosting self-esteem, and afforded many an opportunity to re-build their skills and confidence in a supportive environment.  

Since launching the initiative, one participant is now on her way to completing a certificate in Community Services and several more have gone on to secure employment. Resoundingly, participants shared experiencing remarkable improvements in their mental and social wellbeing after participating in the program.

We know that early intervention and preventing harm is far more effective in reducing long-term, negative impacts on people.

A judgement free approach to harm reduction

We lead best practice in fixed site and mobile assertive outreach (both foot-based and vehicle) through needle syringe exchange programs, proactive overdose response initiatives, drug safety education, counselling, support, education, and referrals for people with alcohol and other drug dependencies. Our programs are available 365 days a year, and include referrals back into our health and wellbeing services.

Initiatives like the Proactive Overdose Response Initiative (P.O.R.I) and Needle Syringe Programs (NSPs) continued to make considerable ground in raising awareness of harm minimisation and prevention activities throughout the year – not just changing lives but saving lives.

PLUS drug and overdose education, practical assistance, pharmacotherapy, relapse prevention, health promotion, harm reduction information and referrals into health services at The Living Room.

However, the need for further evidence-based approaches to address substance-related harm in our community amidst escalating fatal overdose rates is imperative to enhance existing service response and health outcomes for all Victorians. 

Hep-C Point-of-Care Testing

In a significant step towards improving healthcare accessibility for vulnerable populations and reducing harm, The Living Room (in collaboration with UNSW Sydney University and the UNSW Kirby Institute) commenced the roll out of a Hepatitis C (HCV) Point-of-Care Testing trial. 

This initiative not only aims to increase Hepatitis C testing, but also seeks to provide accessible and equitable healthcare for those who may not have reliable access to mainstream health services. 

The newly introduced Point-of-Care testing includes a one-minute HCV antibody test and RNA test, capable of detecting active hepatitis C virus infection within just 1-hour. This breakthrough technology enables a same-visit diagnosis and treatment approach, eliminating the weeks-long wait to receive test results. 

For people experiencing homelessness, or those who are unable to access regular healthcare services, this approach is a game-changer. By providing accessible, same-visit testing and treatment, this not only contributes to reducing the burden of hepatitis C but is a crucial step towards addressing health inequity in our community. 

The (renewed) Living Room has created a new global standard for community-led services that is already creating significant social and economic impact for thousands of people over the years to come – changing the face of homelessness. Importantly, the centre has become a place of protection, safety and belonging for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage.  

We acknowledged that community services should represent the aspirations of our clients, so we worked with people, side-by-side, to understand their living experiences and stories. Our clients were involved every step of the way including the planning and design to ensure everything they wanted was included in the new space.

The feedback from clients has been resoundingly positive, appreciating the fact that they were listened to and that their feedback was genuinely incorporated into the final design and function of the space. 

By contrasting the busyness of the streets and laneways surrounding us, we created a place of respite and regeneration for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness to access free, confidential and judgement-free healthcare and supports to improve their physical, mental and social well-being.  

Increased space and capacity have also enabled an expansion of co-located services including Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Hepatitis C and St Vincent Hospital’s Fever clinic(s), Podiatry, Physiotherapy, Legal, Optometry, Hairdressing and Masseuse services, plus Centrelink supports and therapeutic programs.

Early intervention and crisis support services like ours alleviates the stresses on our already-overburdened health system and saves the State economy millions by intervening before someone needs to lean on complex, public systems.

This project has been possible thanks to the generosity of major partners, funders and supporters including our Board of Directors, Victorian Health Building Authority Fund, Capabuild, Studio Tate, The Green Boat and MANY more…

we will keep going.

But we can’t do it alone…