12 April 2023

Northside residential facility needed to tackle youth homelessness before it starts

| Claire Fenwicke
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ACT homelessness

A Committee report has recommended expanding a youth homelessness service to Canberra’s north. Photo: File.

Conversations are underway for a second residential facility to be built in Canberra’s north to support children under the age of 16 who are at risk of homelessness.

A report from the Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing recommended a second location would improve “geographical access” to support more young Canberrans.

It follows the opening of a similar facility in Waramanga for people younger than 16.

Known as Ruby’s Place homes, Rotary Vulnerable Youth Project chair Dr David Marshall said they provided an important “circuit-breaker” for young people.

“Once a person slips into homelessness, the pattern can repeat throughout their life,” he said.

“This is an intervention program to stop young people slipping into homelessness.”

Dr Marshall was part of a group who brought the Ruby’s Place model to Canberra, which has been in Adelaide for about 30 years.

The ACT Government refurbished the Waramanga six-bedroom property for more than $1 million and opened in September 2022.

Families and Community Services Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith previously stated the homelessness sector was mainly funded for youth aged 16 years and older, but homelessness often hit sooner.

“What many providers were seeing was that young people under 16 were becoming homeless and there were no real support options for them,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“They then either become engaged with child protection or they might become engaged with the youth justice system because they are on the streets, they are not eligible for income support, and they are not eligible for homelessness services.”

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However, Ruby’s Place homes are for children aged 10 to 17 years to prevent homelessness before it becomes ingrained.

“The problem with 10 to 15-year-olds, if there are problems with their families and they leave home, many become homeless, disappear or commit suicide,” Dr Marshall said.

“The idea is to provide a home where they can spend two or three days away.”

It provides a “therapeutic, family-centred response” to help young people re-engage and reconnect with their families, working through conflict and providing pathways for young people to stay at home safely.

If returning to their families isn’t appropriate, social workers also provide a pathway to alternative supports through Child and Youth Protection Services.

It’s designed for young people to stay only a few nights a week, rather than long-service accommodation.

lounge room

Ruby’s House offers respite to children in a warm, non-clinical environment. Photos: CRS.

During the Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing public hearings, Community Services Directorate strategic policy executive group manager Jacinta Evans stated 80 per cent of children who had engaged with the Waramanga program had been able to remain at home, with three in four families taking part either current or previous Child and Youth Protection Services clients.

“The accommodation is that therapeutic support for them to step away and also for their family to receive the counselling and support they need to re-establish the relationship or to work through what it is that is causing the issues for them,” she said.

Off the back of these early indicators of success, the recently released Committee report noted it considered the Waramanga facility “an excellent and important development” in supporting young people at risk of homelessness.

“For this reason, the Committee would like to see such a facility replicated so that more young people can access these services,” it stated.

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Dr Marshall said Rotary was already in talks with the government to make this a reality.

“It would be great to have one northside and one in Tuggeranong as well … three homes [across Canberra] would be ideal,” he said.

“The main thing is they need to be reasonably close to where these young people go to school. They need to be pretty independent and get themselves there.”

The final report into the Waramanga facility is yet to be finalised.

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What a great family oriented approach, providing respite for kids and for family whilst systemically working with both to improve the situation. Fantastic!!!!

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