It has been with some excitement and anticipation that we at Churches Housing put forward this research report into the Yallah Youth Housing Program. It presents as a unique and overwhelmingly effective initiative to provide transitional housing and community for youth who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. In many ways you would think that the Lighthouse initiative at Yallah is wrong; its location is nowhere near many essential services, transport or areas of high employment. Yet this transitional housing program appears to be a lot more than just transitional; it appears to be genuinely transformative. With 67% of participants ending up in secure accommodation and 49% in full-time employment or training upon completion, this program has something special.
The first we heard about the Lighthouse initiative was a few years ago when working with Anglicare. Anglicare Illawarra commenced partnering with Lighthouse to deliver personal training to a group of young women who were in danger of becoming homeless, part of the Yallah program. This personal training program, delivered twice weekly, saw this group transformed. Many were dealing with much anger, frustration and past abuse, while some did not even have a pair of shoes to train in. Over a period of months the personal training saw this group compete in the local Illawarra Aquathon, of which Anglicare is the main charity beneficiary. Complete with new shoes and tri-suits, (thanks to some corporate sponsorship) this group of ladies not only competed, but felt so empowered afterwards that they commenced to recruit some of their friends to participate with them in another event. However, personal training was not the primary goal. The personal trainer shared that she knew she was there primarily as a life coach, looking to build long-term relationship in order to foster self-esteem. Relationship was the key!
The NSW Government’s own “Going Home Staying Home Reform Plan” seeks to reduce repeat homelessness, increase the proportion of clients who can establish and keep long-term accommodation and reduce the need for temporary accommodation. The Lighthouse initiative does all of this, but how? The key that comes through loud and clear through the client interviews is relationships; specifically caring relationships that build community, along with links into a broader caring community outside of the program itself. Some programs may evaluate success based on the number of beds made available, the number of interventions made or the number and types of services delivered. However, the defining measurement must be the outcomes that occur at the end of the program itself. Has genuine transformation begun, have the participants learned to become independent, have they secured long-term accommodation and are they either gainfully employed or in training to be so? Delivering services is simply not enough; services must be delivered in the context of a caring community and relationships that foster a sense of self-worth.
We hope that our state government benefits from the insights given in this report and can support and encourage programs that deliver more than just services. We hope that other church and community groups will be inspired by the findings in this report and can be encouraged to implement new and innovative programs to target youth in their own communities. Finally, we also hope that this report will be of great benefit to Lighthouse itself in evaluating, planning and making any necessary changes to ensure this program continues to be successful into the future.