The first refuge for homeless youth has opened its doors in Melbourne’s outer west – bringing security to young people who would otherwise have been forced to go to Sunshine.

The Hope Street First Response Youth Service in Melton will provide 24/7 support for an estimated 100 young people a year (aged 16-25) including food, medication and referral.

It is open to youth in Melton as well as neighbouring areas such as Moorabool.

“It’s a little known and hidden problem that while parts of Melbourne’s CBD are well publicised as homelessness hotspots… growth corridors are where the problem is at its worst and where some of the most vulnerable individuals are found and is at greater risk of worsening as a result of COVID-19,”  Hope Street Chief Executive Donna Bennett said.

“Until now there have been no support services in these areas.”

The game-changing facility (pictured below) includes an eight-bed communal living space and a two-bedroom unit designed for young families.

The refuge will also act as a base for a mobile outreach service. The Ian Potter Foundation has partly-funded the first four years of operation.

Since early 2019 the Melton service has been operating from temporary accommodation – and in that time, it has helped more than 140 young people.

“Hope Street has been supporting the community for nearly 40 years and will continue to do so,” Ms Bennett said.

“We want people to know that we are here and listening, as we know so many people are in need of help during the COVID-19 recovery phase and beyond.”

Victoria currently has an estimated 6000 homeless people aged 12-24. According to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, on any given day almost 3400 young Victorians and 6100 accompanying children presented to agencies – with many being turned away.

Between March and June 2019 Hope Street helped almost 50 young people. Sixty percent were female and 46 percent of young people helped by the service had a diagnosed mental health condition.

The main reasons for seeking support were housing (71 per cent), family violence (10 per cent) and family/relationship breakdown (4 per cent).

During the period, five family groups were supported including four young people with dependent children.

Melton State Labor MLA Steve McGhie said the launch of the new refuge was exciting.

“Hats off to Hope Street, who have advocated and mobilised support for this project,” he said.

“They are determined to provide young people with the services they need within growth corridors such as Melton.”

NICK’S STORY

At the age of 16, Nick ran away from an abusive household and began living with friends.

He began living more independently but at 19 he hit a rough patch.

A major back injury left him unable to work as an apprentice and unable to pay his rent.

Nick found a Hope Street Youth Refuge and later moved into Hope Street transitional housing, where he stayed for a year.

“The level of care Hope Street provided was eye-opening. I think the typical persons idea of a homeless shelter is a rundown old building full of strange people,” Nick said.

“Hope Street’s facilities could not be further from that. It is blended into the community, beautifully kept, clean and modern. The (Melton) staff were so friendly and accommodating.”

“They reinstated my hope during a time when I was lacking trust. They made sure that everyone at the refuge was provided for. I felt safe and comfortable knowing that there were supporting staff on duty 24/7. You never felt alone. It was positive and genuine.”

With a secure roof over his head, the now-24-year-old was able to go back to study and now has his Certificate III in Civil Construction.

In late 2019 Nick joined Hope Street’s Millennial Advisory Group as a Youth Ambassador to give voice to young people who are experiencing homelessness.

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Gabrielle Hodson
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