FIVE years of “absolute heartache” and hard work brought great reward at Wangaratta yesterday for supporters of a unique program tackling youth homelessness.
The LinX2Home home in Rowan Street provides early intervention for youth aged 12 to 18 from the district.
A $200,000 project, it has all come about thanks to a partnership between North East Support Action for Youth (NESAY) and the community.
Chief executive Glen James said NESAY had long been tackling youth homelessness and family breakdowns.
“I have always felt there must be a better way of dealing with these issues at the pointy end where it costs taxpayers and the government a lot of money to care for homeless young people and deal with family disfunction and breakdown”, she said.
“We really need an early intervention model.
“The crux is keeping families on track with the support they need to deal with their young child who may be experiencing a whole lot of issues.”
The home will house four young people and have the capacity to take in a couple more for a night or two.
A clear proviso is they must be at school, or at least enrolled.
“Once at LinX2Home we work intensively with the school to get them back into education while we’re working with the family,” Ms James said.
Young residents will be taught social skills and learn how to behave within a family.
NESAY also works with parents and primary carer “about how to communicate better, how to work on the problems the family has with their particular young person”.
Ms James said she had come up with the idea using experience overseas.
As a social worker, she felt a “circuit breaker” was needed on the issue.
“I’ve been involved in several programs where parents say ‘if only someone had helped me early, we wouldn’t have got to this point’,” she said.
That led to asking governments whether they would fund or trial the concept but, because it was unproven in Australia, no one would back it.
“Our community agency and board believed we could do it,” she said.
“We developed the program, we researched it, we tweaked it lots of times, and the outcome is LinX2Home.”
The program was not a youth refuge model, nor is it foster care.
Ms James described it as short-term respite care for the young person to come and stay for three or four days and then go home for a few days.
She paid tribute to the groups that tipped in $92,000 of the cost, the rest coming from NESAY itself.
The NESAY agency is committed to a two-year pilot of the program.
“The Commonwealth and the states are very interested in the program but, basically, they’re waiting to see what the outcomes are,” Ms James said.
“It’s a pity they’re not willing to take a risk on early intervention.”
Yet, Ms James was yesterday “ecstatic” with such significant step.
“It’s been five or six years of absolute heartache, of highs of lows of disappointment,” she said.
“The culmination today, the opening, has been absolutely thrilling.”