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Youth homelessness: How do we break the cycle?

18 June 2018

News and media


Young homeless man under a bridge

New ANZSOG Case Study shows value of linking youth homelessness services to training and jobs.

How can we break the cycle of youth homelessness, and develop an approach that does not just put a roof over someone’s head but puts them on the path to work?

The latest addition to ANZSOG’s John L. Alford Case Library, Steering social innovation: Community agencies and the commissioning of Education First Youth Foyers, details the challenges that the CEOs of Hanover Welfare Services and the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL), and their partners in the Victorian Government, faced as they tried to create an innovative new program to address youth homelessness.

CEOs – Tony Nicholson (BSL) and Tony Keenan (Hanover) –  were frustrated by a homelessness service system focused on crisis support, and decided a new approach was needed – an approach which would support young people’s aspirations to learn and find work.

They saw the current system as fragmented, founded on prescriptive divisions of responsibility between government agencies, which was unable to propose a holistic policy response to the complex, multi-faceted social problem.

Overcoming the constraints of the existing system would require a different way of working, one that involved partnerships across the service sectors and a departure from conventional commissioning practices.

The Youth Foyer model

Extensive research led Hanover and BSL to the “Youth Foyer” model, widely adopted as an innovative youth homelessness service response in the United Kingdom. Youth Foyers combine accommodation with a tailored program aimed at supporting young people to successfully transition to adulthood. Rather than focusing on participants’ problems, the UK model assumes they have the capacity to engage in education and employment.

This idea was the basis for what eventually became the Education First Youth (EFY) Foyers: specialist student accommodation located on selected Victorian TAFE campuses, designed to help disadvantaged young people successfully transition into independent – but also connected – adults.

This new approach would require ‘buy in’ from elected politicians to push through any bureaucratic sticking points. So, in the lead-up to the 2010 Victorian election, representatives of Hanover and the BSL approached both major state political parties with a costed model for three EFY Foyers. Both parties pledged to support it.

The project demanded that government put considerable trust in the capabilities and experience of the two CEOs and their agencies, and called for a significant funding commitment – $30.1 million over three years. It also demanded what one bureaucrat described as a ‘new way of working’. Key to this commitment was the understanding that the two organisations would jointly co-design the service model and lead its evaluation but run only one of the three proposed Foyers.


The Case outlines the difficulties faced in bringing the EFY dream to fruition and the distinctive governance structure that was put in place to ensure they could overcome any bureaucratic obstacles.

The project was overseen by an Inter-Agency Steering Committee (IASC) which had representation from BSL and Hanover, key government agencies and industry, and departed from convention by being directly accountable to the Minister for Housing.

This governance structure allowed an unusually close working relationship between the CEOs responsible for service development and the Project Control Group tasked with overseeing the construction of the actual Foyer buildings.

The Case provides an insiders’ account of social innovation in practice, and offers insight into the political conditions that enable government to experiment with different ways of working. As an example of collaboration between the public and community sectors it invites consideration of how their complementary skills and attributes can be harnessed to develop creative solutions to complex social problems.

There are now three EFY sites, and as of late 2017, the effectiveness of this model was being tested by a five-year longitudinal evaluation examining the implementation of the EFY Foyer, as well as reporting on student outcomes.

The John L. Alford Case Library

Steering social innovation is the latest addition to ANZSOG’s John L.Alford Case Library, an open access resource of public policy and management cases which now contains almost 200 cases covering a wide range of topics from all levels of government in Australia and New Zealand.

The Library offers a unique resource for instructors using interactive teaching approaches, and for practitioners and researchers seeking authoritative accounts and analyses of selected public policy and management issues. Each peer-reviewed case is expertly researched, and written lucidly in ANZSOG’s signature style. Many are accompanied by dedicated teaching notes and exhibits.

The Case Library is an open access collection permitting case downloads free of charge. With the exception of our Teaching Notes, all material in the Case Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.