Tucked away in a nook in Adelaide’s western suburbs lies a house, in which a team of youth workers strive to support teenagers at a critical junction in their lives.
The 24-Hour House – part of UnitingSA’s Western Adelaide Homelessness Services – provides a refuge for young people, aged 15 to 18, who are experiencing homelessness.
Up to eight young people are accommodated at any one time but the service provides much more than just a roof over their heads.
Coordinator Nathan will tell you it’s a place where young people are heard and supported to set goals, reconnect with education or employment, and essentially get their lives on track.
“We begin setting goals with the young person straight away,” Nathan says.
“It’s finding out what’s going to work for them and helping them get there.
“We know what can happen, we know the choices young people can make – our job is to help them get on the right path.”
The 24-Hour House – formerly known as Port Youth – operates with a ‘no wrong door’ policy, with young people finding their way to the service through many avenues. Most commonly they are referred from other homelessness services, community organisations and schools.
The first step upon referral is determining the most appropriate housing response and pathway.
Wherever possible, family reunification is pursued if there is a safe environment for young people to return to.
Over the past 12 months, more than a dozen young people have been successfully reunified with family members, which Nathan says is the “ultimate outcome”.
“If reunification isn’t an option and there’s nowhere appropriate for them to go outside of the homelessness sector, that’s when they stay here.”
For the young people who take up residence in the 24-Hour House, they begin the process of learning how to live independently.
They each take part in an onsite program covering key skills such as managing finances, finding housing, social development, and understanding their legal rights and responsibilities.
Some people will also require the external support of mental health or alcohol and other drug services, and the 24-Hour House team helps to make these connections.
Reconnecting with education and training is also central to their residency.
“Getting the young people back into school is something we hold in really high regard,” Nathan says.
“Once we get them back in, it’s about helping them maintain it – getting up each day, getting them to make their lunch, supporting them to do their homework.
“We make sure all our kids are engaged in something – it’s really important.”
And just like at home, the young people are expected to contribute to the household by taking part in the weekly cooking roster and pitching in on chores.
“There are rules and expectations here – it’s all about getting them ready for independent life outside of the house,” Nathan says.
“The young people help plan the meals, work out what is needed at the shops, and then on a Saturday morning a worker will take them all to do the weekly shopping.
“Then when they cook there’s an expectation they cook for everyone in the house.
“We look at what we need to teach them to give them the best opportunity of being able to transition to living independently in the community.”
Over the past year, the average length of stay for young people was four months, but it varies considerably depending on each person’s needs.
When exiting, young people are supported along the housing continuum. Youth accommodation programs, such as Foyer Port Adelaide, along with transitional and supportive housing are common next steps.
Their ‘graduation’ from the service frees up space for another young person in need of shelter, support and a guiding hand.
The 24-Hour House is staffed by a team of 12 youth workers, who are rostered around the clock.
Several are stalwarts of the house, having been drawn in by the diversity of the work and sticking around because despite its challenges, it’s a hugely rewarding place to be.
For Senior Youth Worker Abbie, it’s the young people themselves who have kept her working at the house for seven years.
“Meeting so many young people and getting to know them has got to be the best part,” she says.
“We are living here with them essentially – we see them when they’ve just woken up, we see them when they go to bed at night.
“We really get to see their personality and find out all their intricacies.
“Every single young person is great in their own way.”
CELEBRATING RESILIENCE & ACHIEVEMENT
Here are just a few of the amazing outcomes achieved by young people at the 24-Hour House over the past 12 months.
- A 17-year-old moved into the house last year after a difficult family life led her to become homeless. She stopped going to school and had spent a period of time couch surfing before being referred to the service. The team supported her to pursue her creative talents and complete a jewellery making course. She is now back at school completing year 12 and is also learning hospitality skills through an apprenticeship program. Late last year, she transitioned to another youth accommodation service as the next stage towards independent living. The 24-Hour House team plans to help her transition to housing within the community later this year.
- An 18-year-old spent four months at the house last year after a situation of family violence meant he no longer felt safe at home. While living at the house, he was supported to complete year 12 with incredible results. He also secured an AFL traineeship in nutrition and dietetics, which he is completing this year. He has now transitioned to supportive housing in the community and plans to attend university to pursue a career in dietetics.
- A 15-year-old left home last year escaping an unsafe family environment and was referred to the house. Over the past six months, the team has supported her to move schools and she is now on track to complete high school next year. Now aged 16, her life is full of diverse activities including being a member of the Navy Cadets, learning to swim through the local Surf Life Saving Club, and receiving two Youth Opportunities scholarships to support her education. She was also sponsored by the local Rotary Club to take part in a five-day voyage to York Peninsula on the One and All sailing ship earlier this year. She is about to commence a hospitality apprenticeship after discovering a love of cooking through the 24-Hour House, and hopes to become a chef in the Army after completing school.
“Coming here has given me so many opportunities. I like that I get to cook for the house and they enjoy my cooking. The workers are very nice and they help me with my school work. The kids are nice as well. They have become my family.”
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