A message from our Chair, Melanie Raymond, OAM.
We knew the demands of public health orders would continue putting pressure on people experiencing homelessness in 2021 – it’s hard to stay at home if you are homeless.
This year I reflect on the exceptional outcomes achieved by Youth Projects during some the worst of circumstances our communities have ever faced.
When it comes to achieving genuine social impact, the Youth Projects team are second to none. Our outcomes show what real social change looks like, at the very frontline where it’s felt the most.
A message from our CEO, Ben Vasiliou.
In the last year, we’ve witnessed thousands of young people hit hard by the pandemic, socially isolated, often the first to have hours cut or laid off work completely and considerable wait times to access mental health supports. We’ve seen substance use on the rise and critical homelessness services continuing to shut their doors during lockdowns. The demand on our services spiked quicker than we’ve ever experienced at Youth Projects, so we continued to scale up to support those who needed us most.
Everything we do at Youth Projects is guided by our theory of change, Our story of impact.
A story of impact that enables young people and people experiencing homelessness to…
In the shadows of the pandemic during 2021, there was another crisis sweeping across Melbourne….
Young people in silent crisis
Young people’s wellbeing has been severely impacted by the pandemic and constant lockdowns – their ability to carry out daily activities and to cope with stress has shown a continued decline since 2020.
Many young people are just entering the workforce, moving out of home, and forming new relationships – key milestones that have been disrupted. Young people who otherwise managed their mental health by hitting the gym, seeing friends and keeping themselves busy, have been presenting to us with significant substance abuse issues, self-harming behaviours and even psychosis.
Continuous social isolation, severe impacts on individuals’ mental health, hours at work cut and jobs lost, increased substance use and rising homelessness are the crisis points hundreds of young people across Melbourne’s north are facing.
Reports of unstable housing in our youth specialist services spiked significantly between July and September 2020 and again between January and March 2021.
The sad reality is that many young people have fallen between the cracks in the service system during the pandemic, and to add to this perfect storm, waitlists have blown out.
1 in 4
young people were living
in unstable housing
Through a strengths-based approach, Jessie has been able to achieve abstinence from her cannabis and alcohol use, has now passed VCAL (winning 3 awards along the way), is getting her P-plates and is working on a Certificate III in Hospitality.
After setting attainable goals, accessing counselling and mental health support, Jessie has learnt the long and short-term effects of the substances she was using, harm minimisation strategies, refusal strategies and relapse prevention. This is her story.
We’ve taken YHOP to Moreland
Increased AOD service capacity
Piloted a new in-school wellbeing program
Knowing what was ahead, we used 2021 to build young people’s capacity and focus on getting them ready to launch into recovering job markets.
Aiden initially participated in our Employability Skills Training program. After successfully completing both Blocks in the program, Aiden was keen to work with our Disability Employment Services team to secure meaningful employment and find an employer that would understand his Autism and enable him to pursue a real career based on his strengths.
We also saw a significant need for young people to obtain their licence – getting them to and from work reliably.
Not only to build independence, but also reduce barriers to employment by getting young people to and from work reliably, without the reliance on poor public transport infrastructure across Melbourne’s north and outer suburbs.
20 young people have already accessed lessons with our qualified driving instructor AND Youth Worker.
We increased our capacity to work with 3 times more young people, every 3-weeks across inner and northern Melbourne.
Our Employability Skills Training has evolved into a flexible, strengths-based program that teaches young people how to be adaptable in evolving and highly competitive job markets, develop their strengths and skills, prepare for or to re-enter meaningful employment and now includes regular industry guests, just like Bec. Almost 80% of young people successfully completed the program and moved into a job in 2021.
Our commitment to culturally diverse and newly arrived young people remained unyielded this year – multilingual youth coaches recruited to better support young people from diverse backgrounds.
Having only arrived in Australia in 2019 as a refugee, Letisya knew very little English and was wondering where to even begin starting her new life in an entirely new country. We matched her with one of our youth coaches who speaks fluent Arabic and set out to support her journey.
Letisya has since gone on to complete 2 certificate qualifications during lockdown, has almost finished a Hairdressing course, has started a Certificate IV in IT and is ready to launch in the recovering job market. This is her story.
Since opening our first The Little Social café in November 2020, we’ve been a little busy…
new cafes opened and achieved financial sustainability
new jobs created including 6 young people and 3 former trainees
coffees and meals served to frontline healthcare workers
profits re-invested back into the living room homelessness services
carbon offset across operations
of plastic avoided from landfill by using sustainable alternatives
It makes such a difference to be working in a workplace where I feel supported. This job has really kept me going during a tough time.
As her 4-week trainee program came to an end, Courtney scored an ongoing position at The Little Social, which has provided her a solid foundation of employment while she pursues studies in Youth Work to help other young people in similar positions to where she was. This is her story.
Meanwhile, down in Melbourne’s CBD we ensured people had a safe and accessible place to access health and social services while others opened and closed….
Kris was reluctant to see medical staff and had not seen a doctor for ages out of sheer fear that they would judge Kris for being transgender. That was, until Kris met our night nurses.
After Kris became really unwell for an abscess that required emergency treatment, they began regularly visiting The Living Room for dressings changes. As the walls came down and Kris began to trust our team, they addressed other significant health issues and now feel very comfortable accessing health services for the first time in a very long time.
During the lockdowns, The Living Room became one of the few services to continuously keep its doors open to support people sleeping rough in Melbourne’s CBD. We played a vital role in supporting people, keeping them informed on vital health messages and advocating for access to safe and secure accommodation.
One of the reasons we exist is to ensure people feel a greater sense of belonging, security and safety whilst decreasing their risk of falling back into homelessness. And it starts with a home….
Sadly, over 330 people accessing our services in 2021 were experiencing primary homelessness
But, it’s more than just the immediate situation.
It’s about the whole person.
Thanks to The Living Room for celebrating my birthday. It felt really special for someone to actually acknowledge and celebrate it with me.
A key driver of wellbeing and resilience is social connectedness. It’s a vital part of services accessible through The Living Room, ensuring people maintain social connectedness with each other, with our team, with peers, and with family. 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.
But there were two more crises impacting our community that could be prevented.
Hepatitis can’t wait
In recent years, treatment uptake for Hepatitis C has been declining in Victoria and is well behind the National Hepatitis C Strategy’s target of 65% treatment uptake, and 50% treatment uptake for Hepatitis B by 2022. Only 23.1% of those living with Hepatitis B in Victoria are currently engaged in care.
So, we set ourselves a target to screen all new service users by the end of 2021 and for those who need to, engage them with care.
Accidental overdose in Victoria
Youth Projects has been at the forefront of harm reduction and minimisation since the early 1990s. But recently, more lives are being lost to accidental overdose than to the road toll each year in Victoria. This is how education, safe use promotion, overdose awareness training and peer support programs are reducing fatal overdose in Victoria.
All of this in addition to our usual drug and overdose education, practical assistance, pharmacotherapy, relapse prevention, health promotion, needle syringe program information and referrals into health services at The Living Room.
INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH SHOWS THAT FOR EVERY $1 INVESTED IN HARM REDUCTION SERVICES, $27 IS RETURNED IN COST SAVINGS TO THE HEALTH SYSTEM AND WIDER ECONOMY.
But we must not will not stop there –
we will keep going.
In August we opened a new Youth Hub at Craigieburn. Navigating a complex and often judgemental service system is tough and we need to be there to coordinate those services with young people.
Our new hub will provide an integrated social model of health to deliver crisis support, alcohol & drug counselling, mental health service co-ordination, pre and post-employment support and training programs. Plus, it will become the main access point for young people to navigate social services in Craigieburn, across Melbourne’s north, and beyond.