Youth Housing Now – The Salvation Army Youth Services Perspective

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The Salvation Army Youth Services offer an integrated suite of targeted programs engaging with young people across Australia on their journey to independence. We’re focused on creating intentional avenues for young people to explore opportunities, build support networks, and access, participate and contribute to their communities. We have a national footprint in delivering housing and homelessness programs to young people. Our  National Model of Care ‘Journey to Independence’ is particularly important in our delivery of refuge accommodation, assisting young people to develop meaningful relationships, as well as transferable and measurable skills to prepare for future opportunities and success.

What is the role of Youth Refuges in providing access to appropriate forms of youth housing?

The youth refuge sector has significantly evolved over the decades, to now be strongly guided by person-centred, trauma informed frameworks. Youth refuges offer some young people a genuine period of respite and safety from the often chaotic, violent, transient, and uncertain experiences of early homelessness. 

Youth refuges present a unique opportunity to work in partnership with young people to address the causal factors of crisis and homelessness and assist each young person on a pathway to independence.

  • Establishing immediate and on-going safety
  • Providing environments that allow for stabilising of acute crisis (mental health, AOD, transience)
  • Providing space for the creation of a therapeutic alliance between young people and staff
  • Developing and teaching transferrable life and living skills of young people 
  • Providing access to ongoing and independent housing pathways to vulnerable young people who experience barriers to securing other pathways
  • Providing access to holistic referral pathways for young people to transition out of refuge
  • Advocating  to ensure young people in refuges are not excluded from accessing further opportunities due to the perceived complexity of this group

Barriers and challenges exist that negatively impact the capacity of youth refuges to effectively deliver successful outcomes. Across Victoria, crisis accommodation timeframes of six to eight weeks are inconsistent with the wider national approach and do little to meet the needs of young people within the refuge system. The concept of short term ‘crisis accommodation’ is no longer relevant and shows a disconnect between evidenced-based responses and funding requirements, in understanding the relational needs of young people and the responses required in working through immediate crisis and risk. The Victorian Parliament Inquiry into Homelessness made the recommendation to ‘…embed flexibility into its approach to the funding of homelessness programs. This flexibility should extend to the amount of time an individual receives support and the services they are eligible to receive’.[NO1] [RE2]  Where youth refuges are a suitable accommodation option, we must ensure young people are supported for the duration of their need, moving away from restrictive time-limited episodes of care.

It is also acknowledged that young people accessing refuge accommodation can exhibit behaviours which at times make it difficult to successfully remain in a shared refuge environment or gain access to appropriate exit housing options following refuge accommodation. However, this group must be supported to find appropriate responses and support within the youth refuge sector, to reduce further episodes of homelessness and work towards long-term housing outcomes.

The challenges faced across the refuge space is to be able to meet the needs of individuals who have historically found themselves exited from programs, without ever having had the opportunity to realise self-directed case management goals.

Our experience has shown that delivering youth refuge accommodation to young people requires a psychologically aware approach, enabling us to recognise young people accessing services have had experiences of trauma and have lived in crisis throughout adolescence, culminating in feelings of hopelessness and a lack of trust in us as adults, carers and professionals.  

Within a psychologically informed environment we show a genuine regard for the young person, a high level of curiosity about each young person’s unique life and a commitment to non-exclusion through elastic tolerance.

Do transitional housing programs provide a pathway to permanent housing?

Overtime, transitional and crisis accommodation have evolved to become more aligned, delivering similar service response to young people experiencing homelessness. As most states have moved away from short term refuge accommodation and allow young people time to build safety and relationships, supported transitional accommodation client groups have largely changed to young people who would have historically been accommodated in short term accommodation.

In Victoria, TSA’s education pathway housing model was developed to respond to an identified need to support young people beyond refuge who struggled to secure mainstream accommodation options and were particularly vulnerable. The program works in partnership with a range of community housing providers and philanthropic partners to offer safe and supported transitional accommodation for young people engaged in education. In ensuring permanent housing options post the education pathways model, young people can access private rental brokerage to ensure financial barriers do not prevent ongoing opportunities to succeed. These partnerships allow young people to move to permanent housing, whilst maintaining connection to support during this important change in their life.

The Salvation Army’s Lead Tenant Program in South Australia has implemented a unique model of transitional housing for young people. The program provides head-leased accommodation, integrated specialist case management support and an opportunity to establish peer relationships through the provision of lead tenant mentoring.

The lead tenant provides ongoing mentoring and support in living independently, whilst allowing young people to cultivate their abilities, make choice to shape their own lives and learn how to engage and contribute to the world around them. With the integration of stepped support services, young people involved in the program reported reduced episodes of crisis, enhanced independent life and living skills, effective transition into the private rental market and feelings of stability and safety.

Whilst youth refuges and transitional accommodation programs provide a critical response for young people experiencing homelessness they must be delivered as part of a broader housing continuum, to ensure flexibility and suitability are considered in responding to the diverse needs of young people.

Can young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness realistically gain access to the private rental market?

Young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness still face many barriers in accessing permanent housing. This is due to perceived risk of young people in independent accommodation, low incomes, high rental costs, lack of affordable and social housing options, inability to maintain full time employment due to education and training participation and ongoing challenges in advocating for access when competing against other community members.

In working to ensure young people have access to the private rental market, The Salvation Army has developed and implemented a number of innovative responses to ensure fair and equitable access to the private rental market for young people.  These models focus on holistic outcomes for young people, as well as ensuring appropriate levels of support to ensure long-term sustainability. 

Rent Choice Youth

A very successful program which actively works to gain access for young people to the private rental market is Sydney’s Rent Choice Youth Program run in partnership with Department of Communities and Justice. This program was first introduced in September 2017 to provide for an unmet housing need for young people exiting transitional programs and leaving care. Rent Choice Youth, through the work of the Housing Liaison Worker, supports young people to access safe and affordable private rental housing. Rent Choice Youth provides young people with a 3 year, tapered rental assistance ensuring secure tenure whilst they complete their education, training and employment goals.

The Housing Liaison Worker is instrumental in the delivery of Rent Choice Youth through creating relationship building with real-estate agents and education on the support that can be provided to young people whilst in private rental. In a 2 year period, and an extremely competitive rental market, the program sourced 23 private rental properties across Inner City Sydney through the implementation of its real-estate engagement strategy. These mutually beneficial partnerships resulted in real-estates directly contacting the program with up-coming vacancies on suitable properties for tenancy.

Youth Private Rental Accommodation Program (YPRAP)

In Victoria, YPRAP supports young people and families to establish independent or shared private rental tenancies. The program provides brokerage for tapered rent assistance to allow young people to access and afford shared private rental. Providing brokerage to assist with housing costs is critical in assisting young people to gain fair and equitable access to the private rental market and often normalises their experience of young adulthood and allows the opportunity to transcend the homeless service system. Since 2019, YPRAP has successfully sourced and obtained over 80 private rental tenancies for young people within the homelessness system. YPRAP has proven particularly successful in assisting young people transitioning from our youth refuges and education pathways program.

Can young people be experiencing or at risk of homelessness gain access to the various forms of social housing, community housing and public housing? What are some of the obstacles to them gaining access to social housing?

Young people exiting homelessness face significant barriers in accessing the various forms of social housing, community housing and public housing. In working with housing partners, our experience has shown social housing providers are often reluctant to accept young residents because of their low and insecure incomes and because they are regarded as high-risk tenants. These barriers within the wider housing sector reduces the capacity for rapid rehousing of young people. It also has the potential to create further disadvantage and increase their experiences of homelessness, through placement in refuge or short term housing that isn’t aligned to the needs of the individual. 

Data from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) shows that young people make up over half (54%) of all single people who seek help from homelessness services, but they only make up 2.9% of principal tenants in social and public housing in Australia REF[DB3] . This identifies a significant barrier young people are experiencing in gaining access to this housing option. There is an urgent need for young people to have dedicated access to appropriate social housing stock. We believe that equitable access to youth-specific social housing options, incentives or increases the allocation and proportions of housing available to young people, with appropriate levels of support, will provide further affordable housing opportunities.  Consultation with our services nationally, has also highlighted current social, public and community housing stock are inappropriate and unsafe for young people who have often experienced complex trauma. We need access to ‘youth friendly’ housing stock with secure tenures (up to five years) to provide stability and appropriate opportunities for youth transitioning to independence

This article was written by The Salvation Army’s Youth Services Victoria Housing and Homelessness Portfolio Group and first published in Parity magazine (April 2021 edition).


 [NO1]Parliament of Victoria. Legislative Council. Legal and Social Issues Committee. (2021). Inquiry into homelessness in Victoria, Final report. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/lsic-lc/article/4662

pg: XIX [RE2]

 [DB3]MacKenzie, D., Hand, T., Zufferey, C., McNelis, S., Spinney, A. and Tedmanson, D. (2020) Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people, AHURI Final Report 327, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne, http://www.ahuri.edu.au/research/final-reports/327, doi: 10.18408/ahuri-5119101.

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