Australian youth homeless find belonging

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The Ingle Farm Youth Services targets youth in need of accommodation.

By Heather McIlvaine –

The Salvation Army Ingle Farm Centre in Adelaide, South Australia, receives constant requests for assistance, especially from youth facing homelessness in the community.

It’s a growing problem across Australia, where approximately 44,000 teenagers and young adults have no place to call home. And the Ingle Farm Corps works to be an alternative for youth in need.

The corps opened its first shelter for homeless youth in 1983.  

“At some point a decision was made to focus on youth homelessness as our core business because we had a history of doing it well,” said Katie Lawson, Director of Youth Services at Ingle Farm Corps.

Today, Lawson and her staff run three programs, funded by the state and federal government: Burlendi Youth Housing, a crisis accommodation shelter for eight 15-17 year olds; Youth Outreach, a transitional accommodation service with 50 properties for 15-25 year olds; and Muggy’s Accommodation, a transitional service with 60 properties that provides intensive case worker support and access to independent living for 16-18 year olds under state guardianship.

“There’s a misconception that to solve homelessness all we need are more houses. It’s bigger than that,” Lawson said. “Just because someone has a house doesn’t mean they have the skills or capacity to manage—because they’ve never been taught.”

Building independent living skills—such as cooking, budgeting, engaging with the community, and practicing safe behavior—is thus a core part of Ingle Farm Corps’ approach. “Our goal from day one is to prepare kids well enough so that they never have to come back,” said Rebecca Sander, who manages Burlendi Youth Housing.

Depending on the individual, case managers may also facilitate education and employment opportunities, or coordinate access to mental health services or addiction recovery programs.  

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of model,” Lawson said. Instead, Ingle Farm youth workers take the time to build a relationship with each client, understand his or her needs and empower the individual to make changes.  

“It takes a long time for them to realize that we’re going to keep coming back,” said Jenna Masi, who manages Muggy’s North, accommodation for young people under state guardianship who have had failed placements. “Their experience has shown them that a breakdown in behavior results in a breakdown in the relationship. But if they make a mistake with us, it’s a lesson, not a failure.”

Masi acknowledges that the task of the Ingle Farm Corps Youth Services team is to restore the possibility of a safe place to call home.

“I don’t just want them to have a house, I want them to be connected to a community and feel a sense of belonging; I want to see their self-esteem grow and I want them to have goals and hopes and dreams,” said Megan Casey, Manager of Youth Outreach. “Sometimes the statistics make you think, ‘They’ve got a house; our job’s done.’ But for me it’s so much more.”

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