Increased Opportunities for Homeless Youth Bill Passes in Youth Parliament

Luke Collins
Housing & Local Government Reporter
YMCA Youth Press Gallery

Youth Premier Fleetwood McGowan speaks in support of the bill
Youth Premier Fleetwood McGowan speaks in support of the bill

The team of students from Swinburne University have taken positive steps in Youth Parliament to further their goal of increasing opportunities for homeless youth.

The team’s bill proposes to open three age-tiered “opportunity centres” within a 5km radius of the Melbourne CBD area, the bill passed with little opposition in the Legislative Assembly.

Swinburne team member and Youth Premier Fleetwood McGowan said the opportunity centres would allow homeless youth “to follow their passions in a safe and supported environment”.

Fellow team member, Fiorella Gamero said the bill helped Victoria to fulfil its “legal and moral obligation to promote, protect and realise the human rights of all people.”

“It is bills like this that create change” teammate, Christopher Jakobi said.

“The youth is our future, the youth is our hope,” team member Xiaofei Jiang said.

The opposition found it difficult to find a fault in the bill, but declared the 60 people it would support would not be enough to truly help the problem of youth homelessness.

Swinburne member, Salonie Saxena said it was a pilot program and it was necessary to start small to ensure it is the best program possible

Swinburne University team at Parliament House
Swinburne University team at Parliament House

The bill has received support from several people who work closely with youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Wesley Mission Ringwood, senior program coordinator for crisis program, Maidie Graham said she thinks “these opportunity centres sound really great. The idea of having a place that people can go and get a range of services is a really good one.”

However, she also pointed out the difficulty of finding affordable rent in the CBD and said there were negative impacts of moving away from the area where a person’s support services are in order to afford rent.

“If people are living in an area and it’s not realistic for them to get other accommodation in that area, [it] can a bit of a problem” Ms Graham said.

It is also difficult for homeless people to get rent because of the stigma associated with being homeless.

The process is made more difficult because often they “haven’t got references from real estate agents.” Ms Graham said.

Melbourne City Mission, acting manager for supported accommodation, Christine Bone said having half the staff as people who identify as Indigenous may present issues.

“Maybe not half because that’s a lot” Miss Bone said but she supported “links within the Indigenous communities” and having “at least [one] worker who was indigenous”.

Melbourne City Mission, Foyer Plus program, team leader Desiree Smit said “we can ever have too many youth focused programs,”

However, Mrs Smit said the non-negotiable house rules regarding drugs and alcohol may be too harsh.

Mrs Smit said it may be better to work alongside drug and alcohol workers to prioritise “harm minimisation,”

Swimburne team member, Krishna Adhikari said the contracts were to make sure “everyone living in [the centres] safety isn’t compromised,”

If the contracts were breached “We’ll find more appropriate centres for them, like a rehabilitation centre who is focused on rehabilitating people who have a drug and alcohol problem,

“So it’s not like we are kicking them out and showing them the door but we are more focused on providing the best centres for them because, our centre will be more focused on empowering youths with skills,

“there are a lot of other centres which are more focused on rehabilitating people in terms of drugs and alcohol use.” Said Mr Adhikari

The bill will now be passed on to Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, Martin Foley for consideration.