'Nowhere to go': Troubled teens find hope in unique housing program

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A unique housing model is helping at-risk young Australians to break the cycle of homelessness.

Harriet Offei had dreams of a new life when she packed her bags for Australia.

"I wanted to come because it's my dream land and - I always say this - I'm really jealous of this country," she said. "What we have here isn't what I've got in Ghana."

But when she arrived two years ago, Ms Offei's dreams became a nightmare.

She suffered emotional violence from her father, something she had never experienced back home.

"I went to the neighbours, and I told them, 'I've just been violated and I don't have anywhere to go'," she said. "So they called the police."

She said her father then kicked her out of home. “I was like, 'I don't know anyone here,’" she said. “It’s really hard.”

"I went to the neighbours, and I told them, 'I've just been violated and I don't have anywhere to go'."

Cody Broxam was 15 when she too fell victim to family violence.

She said it led to alcohol dependence and homelessness.

"I've hit rock bottom a few times," she said.

"[I] slept at friends' houses and stuff and then mum ended up finding a house and then it kind of started getting really bad again so I had to go into a refuge." 

Though both girls came from different walks of life, they shared a similar story.

Setting them on a new path was "Youth Foyers," a program which provided alternative accommodation for at-risk Australian youth, with a focus on support services and education.

In partnership with Kangan, TAFE, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Launch Housing have two Foyer Houses - one in Broadmeadows and another in Holmesglen.

"[I] slept at friends' houses and stuff and then mum ended up finding a house and then it kind of started getting really bad again so I had to go into a refuge." 

The Youth Foyers were opened in 2013 and 2014, and have a capacity of 40 people each.

But both are full and have long waiting lists.

Launch Housing head Tony Keenan said the combination of affordable housing, case management and education helped young people find things they're passionate about.

"This youth foyer, it provides up to two years' investment in these young people who have often had a very rocky start and have been homeless," he said. "And they can stay here for two years on the condition they engage in education."

The residents were enrolled in various courses, with some travelling to universities for some units.

Youth Foyers was based on European models, and though relatively new in Australia, have been around for decades overseas. They have a 75 per cent success rate in young people finding housing and work.

Mr Keenan said the model was proving a success but said more were needed across the country to help the hundreds still struggling to find their feet.

Homelessness Australia said 12- to 24-year-olds accounted for about 25 per cent of all homeless people.

Youth Foyers was trying to curb that and bring down Australia's youth unemployment, which is currently at 13.5 per cent.

“A lot of what's been offered in the past is short-term crisis with a welfare focus, and it's, 'How can we get you onto welfare? How can we get you into public housing?' which has often been a fast track to a life of welfare,” Mr Keenan said.

"They can stay here for two years on the condition they engage in education."

“This is anything but that. It's working and investing in these young people to get them skills so they can get jobs and move out into private rental.”

Twenty-year-old Billy El-Baba was completing Year 12 when he was kicked out of home.

At Youth Foyers, he is pursuing studies in politics and economics, while helping others too.

"A few refugees and asylum seekers that live here…because they lack the English skills necessary, and they need help with their school work and what not. I'm always free to help them," he said.

Having lived in a refuge before, Cody Broxam said she knows the difference and felt lucky to be sharing a space with what she calls her "family of 40".

"It's really good. We have 'family dinners' so we all cook together, sit down and eat together and then clean up together," she said.

"And we're always having fun, we've done a few Foyer videos of us just dancing, which is quite fun. There's always something to do, something going on."

Harriet Offei now has a part-time job and is studying to become an immigration lawyer.

"I can see my mates out there. So if I can do something, then it's going to be better."

Cody Broxam, too, wants to give back.

"I can’t wait to finish my education and get into a job that I love and help people."

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