Melbourne’s largest provider of youth crisis services, Melbourne City Mission Frontyard Youth Services, was concerned at the rising rate of youth over the past decade and particularly about a group of young people who they identified that repeatedly returned to Frontyard for help.
These young people were unable to maintain their housing placement due to a range of complex issues, including significant mental health issues.
Research was undertaken to understand their issues more deeply, especially the barriers they faced in maintaining their refuge accommodation. Frontyard recognised that a change in service delivery was required to better respond to this growing issue. Bringing housing with wrap around services together helps young people with complex needs transition out of homelessness.
The new model
“We identified a gap in our services and we created the solutions required to fill this gap. We began work on a very innovative model that would be significantly different to what Melbourne City Mission and other organisations provided young people at the time,” said Vicki Sutton, Melbourne City Mission’s Chief Executive Officer.
Additional wrap-around support services including case management, outreach workers and intensive support from health disciplines not typically part of homelessness services would be included. There would also be 24-hour specialist core teams and counselling to ensure young people would receive the appropriate support while living at Frontyard.
A shared ambition
The ambitious $9 million redevelopment of Frontyard Youth Services, located in Melbourne’s CBD, received $3 million initial funding from the Victorian Government in May 2016 to support a more inclusive service for this highly-complex youth group. The remaining fundraising effort involved contributions and advocacy across the philanthropic sector, with the final funds raised through Melbourne City Mission’s 2019 fundraiser, ‘Sleep at the G’.
In 2018, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation added its support with a $250,000 Proactive grant and both organisations have built a strong relationship based on a shared ambition to prevent entrenched homelessness.
Vicki credits the support from the Foundation in helping to expand Melbourne City Mission’s philanthropic networks and bring new people to work with them on innovative projects.
“As an organisation we are now much more ambitious about our ideas and more confident in seeking out other funding to support pilot programs that will demonstrate positive outcomes.
“Frontyard has been a pivot point for us to be able drive our own agenda and progress ideas. We are moving from waiting for funding opportunities to creating them. The support from the Foundation and the success of Frontyard has given us the confidence to progress ideas we have for other programs within the organisation.”
Opening the doors just the start
Melbourne City Mission celebrated the opening of Frontyard Youth Services in May 2019, offering an 18-bed crisis support service. Within two months of opening, Frontyard had assisted over 700 young people.
Vicki said that Frontyard was designed to meet the complex and dynamic needs of the most marginalised young people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne’s CBD.
“We are now able to provide support to a young person for as long as they require assistance, which will help them sustain a successful long-term pathway out of homelessness.”
Melbourne City Mission’s support provides young people with accommodation options including short overnight stays and up to 52 weeks if required.
Almost half of the young people assisted in the first year have successfully moved into longer term accommodation – an important component was peer support.
As an organisation, Melbourne City Mission discovered that the four-year journey through the building and fundraising complexity to get the doors open was not ‘job done’; the journey had only just started.
“The first 12 months has been a learning curve. There were high levels of expectation by staff for immediate success, but that is when the true innovation started.
“One of the key learnings during this first year was that we realised that we could not care for 18 young people with high levels of complex needs all at the one time in our accommodation, so we adapted the model to include a combination of young people with varying levels of personal issues. We also needed very experienced youth workers who could bring a depth of knowledge and practice.”
A 400-page methodology and operations manual developed to support the new service delivery model is expected to take another year to refine and assess the impact.
Mental health services added to the mix
Melbourne City Mission has found that some young people find it difficult to maintain long-term housing. A more holistic service, provided for a longer time, helps to stabilise a young person and sustain their housing.
Melbourne City Mission also identified that while they offered a variety of integrated services, this did not include tertiary mental health services. Further evolution of Frontyard has seen the integration of more on-site services including youth law, Centrelink, Royal Children’s Hospital nurses and doctors, as well as pet, music and art therapy.
"Young people who are homeless come to us because of the trauma they have experienced in their lives, so to be able to provide both accommodation and mental health services at Frontyard for a young person is a great outcome.”
Focus on outcomes for future scale-up
The Foundation was one of the first organisations to support the proposed ‘living and learning’ component of the new youth services model and provided feedback as the program was being developed.
Melbourne City Mission is now starting to assess the economic benefits of the new model to prove that the benefits of preventing young people from entering a cycle of entrenched homelessness far outweighs the costs. It is hoped that the model, focusing on outcomes for young people and not just statistics, can be scaled-up and implemented by other organisations.
“Our success is when a young person has overcome many of their challenges and feels empowered to begin their life with the skills they need to fulfil their potential, just like any other young person in Melbourne,” added Vicki.