By Danielle Kutchel
Imagine a future with no youth homelessness.
That’s the future envisaged by the team at Kids Under Cover, a not-for-profit aiming to break the cycle of homelessness through innovative housing and educational support.
Kids Under Cover was formed in 1989 by Ken Morgan OAM, who found himself homeless at 16 and “stone motherless broke” at 55.
It provides accommodation and educational support for young people aged 12 to 25 who are at risk of, or already experiencing, homelessness.
The Studio Program is at the heart of Kids Under Cover’s work, in which one or two-bedroom studios with bathrooms are built from recyclable materials in the backyard of a family or carer’s home.
This ensures that the young person has close access to their networks, but also provides a personal and stable space for them to live in.
This combination helps tackle youth homelessness by keeping young people connected to their families and communities. By intervening early, the organisation aims to foster positive changes in young lives to shape their futures and break the cycle of homelessness.
This month, the organisation celebrated 30 years of work preventing youth homelessness.
Over those three decades, the not-for-profit has supported more than 3000 young people before they end up on the streets.
Some of that work has taken place in the City of Casey, with 13 studios currently on the ground in the municipality.
But as spokeswoman Fiona Dickson says, that’s 13 families who have extra support – not just 13 youths.
“It’s all the siblings and neighbours, friends at school, and the people they remain connected with. It’s a place-based collective impact.
“We put something where they already are, instead of them leaving home and disconnecting.”
Usually, families are referred to Kids Under Cover from other community organisations like the Salvos and Berry Street. Kids Under Cover can turn around an application for a studio in about three months.
After that, they provide scholarships to the young person in the studio and other young people in the home. The scholarships are not academically-based, and the values vary, but the money can be used to help young people participate in school camps or excursions, buy a Myki to travel to school, or buy the resources they need to study.
Post-secondary scholarships are also available to support training and development.
They work in partnership with other community service organisations to ensure the families access the support they need, whether that be counselling, reunification or mental health support.
“There are substantial savings in other parts of the sector by keeping young people connected with their family. There’s a preventative and positive impact in maintaining those connections,” she explains.
Then there’s the human impact: recipients of the studios and their families note a reduction in risk-taking behaviours, decreased conflict in the house and a lessened feeling of isolation.
In November, Kids Under Cover will launch Walk for Cover: a four-day trek that kicks off from Friday 22 November in Rosebud and concludes at Kids Under Cover’s head office in Richmond. The Walk for Cover route represents the fact that Kids Under Cover has studios right across the entire state of Victoria and aims to raise enough money to build two new studios and put a roof over two young people’s heads.
While it’s not a public event, the community can get involved by sponsoring participants.
As well as this, Kids Under Cover asks community members to advocate for their work.
“We know that for a young person who experiences homelessness, even if it’s just in the early stages of things like couch surfing, the chance of them becoming someone who experiences homelessness later in life is extremely high,” Ms Dickson says.
“Demand for what we do is growing. We can support more families and get ahead of the curve in that sense but on the other hand, as a nation homelessness is a growing challenge and more needs to be done in prevention.
“Prevention is the cure for homelessness. We ask people to donate and support us and the other community service organisations we work with, because it’s about collective work,” she says.
To find out more about the Kids Under Cover Walk for Cover, go to www.mycause.com.au/events/walkforcover.