“This is the first place since I was 19 that I
have felt comfortable calling home”: Hunter
Hadlow has benefited from BSL's Youth Foyers.

As far as ringing endorsements go, Hunter Hadlow puts it best. “This is the first place since I was 19 that I have felt comfortable calling home,” says the 23-year-old student, who concedes that as recently as September last year he was “a complete wreck”.

The turnaround for Mr Hadlow is Education First Youth Foyers — run jointly by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Hanover Welfare Services, and supported by the Victorian Government — which combines safe and affordable accommodation and education for homeless young people aged 16-24 and unable to live at home.

He moved into Victoria’s first Youth Foyer, at Holmesglen Institute’s Waverley Campus, last October and is studying video game design at NMIT in Collingwood four days a week — a course that opens up possibilities of work in information technology, animation and artwork.

Mr Hadlow is relishing both the housing and the learning.

“I am usually a very reserved person, very introverted, but since I’ve been here, I have been coming down and talking to people,” he said. “I have done a lot more interaction and things that I would not have done had I not come here.” This includes running a fortnightly fund-raising barbecue for the 38 students in residence in order to acquire a pool table and table tennis table.

On his course, the self-confessed “massive gamer” said simply: “I’ve loved absolutely every second of it.”

Youth Foyers began in the UK in the 1970s, a period of very high youth unemployment and high rates of homelessness. The program sought to link accommodation for youth with education and training and took its name “Foyer” from the French word for “hearth” or “home” (the original idea of Foyers in the 1950s was to respond to the needs of young apprentices from rural France moving to the cities for work and training).

The Brotherhood’s Senior Manager of Youth Transition, Ms Sally James, said the concept has been taken further in Victoria, with housing built on an education institute’s campus. While the Holmesglen Foyer originally was intended as accommodation for international students, a Foyer nearing completion at the Kangan Institute in Broadmeadows is purpose-built and is due to be completed by the first week of March and to take in its first students in April. A Foyer planned for the Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE in Shepparton is going through the planning approval processes, with building due to begin mid-year.

Students are required to undertake a three-month Developing Independence program, be committed to continuing their education and to make a contribution in money or kind towards their accommodation (Mr Hunter, for instance, contributes 25% of his income, as well as his voluntary work at the Holmesglen Foyer). They may stay at a Foyer for up to two years but the average stay is 11 months.

“We want to be a dynamic environment and a supportive one at the same time,” Ms James said.

Youth Foyers are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with staff coming from backgrounds including social work, teaching and health services.

Ms James congratulated the State Government’s willingness to work with the Brotherhood and Hanover in taking a different approach to problems identified in four Council of Australian Government Reform Council reports into education and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. The reports found that more than 40% of young people in low socio-economic families are not working or studying full-time, compared with a national average of 27%, and that while 93% of students from high socio-economic families complete Year 12, only 73% from low socio-economic backgrounds do.