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Ambitious vision for multimillion-dollar Albany youth housing project aiming to break cycle of homelessness

Headshot of Sarah Makse
Sarah MakseAlbany Advertiser
Albany MLA Rebecca Stephens, AYSA board member and H&H Architects director Julie de Jong, Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington, AYSA residential services manager Bradley Ward, chief executive Ian Clarke and Advance Housing chief executive John Lysaught.
Camera IconAlbany MLA Rebecca Stephens, AYSA board member and H&H Architects director Julie de Jong, Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington, AYSA residential services manager Bradley Ward, chief executive Ian Clarke and Advance Housing chief executive John Lysaught. Credit: Sarah Makse/Albany Advertiser

A bold vision has been revealed for a multimillion-dollar, purpose-built youth accommodation facility to tackle homelessness in Albany.

Albany Youth Support Association and Advance Housing are pushing to establish a “Youth Foyer” in Albany, an internationally successful model which brings support services and accommodation for at-risk youth under one roof.

There are 15 Youth Foyers across Australia, including WA’s only facility in Leederville which has the capacity to support 98 young people, making it the biggest in the country.

Foyers aim to provide stable, supported and subsidised accommodation for up to two years for young people who are engaged in employment, education or training.

The facilities give them a place to stay while they work with services to build their resilience, earn qualifications and develop life-long independent living skills to put them on a new path.

AYSA chief executive Ian Clarke said the proposal was for a multi-use building with about 80 beds for people aged 15-25 — expanding their refuge and incorporating longer-term transitional housing.

The building would feature independent unit-style accommodation, culturally sensitive units and capacity to accommodate young parents with a child up to five years old.

“It would look like a very modern, well-designed, certainly very eco-friendly environment,” Mr Clarke said.

“It is very much a sustainable building. Part of this plan is actually you have commercial premises built into it, so that helps subsidise that low cost accommodation of those young people while they are there.

“But importantly, it takes away from this whole concept people have of social housing.

“It is actually a facility that is residential, but it is also a pretty dynamic, vibrant place that perhaps might have a really nice restaurant or cafe, it could have some professional offices there — it could be anything, really.”

Mr Clarke said a location was yet to be decided, but they wanted to find a vacant site in the Albany CBD or near Princess Royal Harbour, close to employment opportunities and education institutions.

Support for the idea is already brewing.

AYSA chief executive Ian Clarke hopes to see the facility open by Albany’s Bicentenary in 2026.
Camera IconAYSA chief executive Ian Clarke hopes to see the facility open by Albany’s Bicentenary in 2026. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

Mr Clarke, Advance Housing chief executive John Lysaught, Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington, Albany MLA Rebecca Stephens and H&H Architects director Julie De Jong are set to fly to Queensland next week to take part in a national Youth Foyer conference.

They will join 200 delegates from across the country to learn more about how to bring the concept to Albany.

Mr Clarke — the former superintendent of the Great Southern Police District — said a service of this kind would have a “multi-generational” impact.

“The pressure on our services to provide is just ever increasing, so we need to plan for the future,” he said.

“Doing something like this now is going to be a game-changer for the community down here, or the community across WA basically, because we will get people from everywhere coming in.”

Currently, Albany’s only youth crisis accommodation is AYSA’s Young House refuge which has eight crisis beds.

Clients can stay at the refuge for three months at a time, but AYSA residential services manager Brad Ward said it was not long enough to help young people make long-term changes.

“We have residents now on their seventh stay and we have had no end of wins, but it is the people that continually come back and seek the services that we have long-term wins with,” Mr Ward said.

After a stay at the refuge, young people can move into one of AYSA and Advance Housing’s five supported transitional units — but they are fully booked for the next two years.

Or they can try their luck in Albany’s competitive private rental market which had a rental vacancy rate of 0.4 per cent in June.

Those over 18 can join the Department of Communities public housing waitlist for the Albany region which averaged more than 2.5 years in July.

Mr Ward said these factors sometimes meant young people were released into homelessness.

Advance Housing builds and manages social housing, student accommodation and housing for special needs across the region — including the delivery of the $11 million student housing facility behind Alison Hartman Gardens.

Mr Lysaught said demand for housing in the region was “never going to go backwards”.

“Ultimately, I think there is an opportunity here to create something that won’t just be window-dressing or reactive,” he said.

“It is a proactive model that helps people to become functional, independent human beings that might not have the supports in place to do that.

“A two-year investment in someone’s future for a lifetime of better quality existence is priceless.”

A report from Shelter WA during a parliamentary inquiry into homelessness in June called for the WA Government’s response to homelessness to “rapidly transition” to programs focused on early intervention and prevention.

An inquiry submission from Vinnies WA said: “Around 50 per cent of young adult rough sleepers have experienced homelessness when they were young, therefore funding specialised youth homelessness services is fundamental to ending homelessness into the future.”

With a business case in the works, Mr Clarke and Mr Lysaught said a final cost for the project had not yet been determined but they hoped to see it open before Albany’s Bicentenary in 2026.

Mr Clarke said philanthropic donations would be the key to turning the idea into a reality.

“It’s not a case of if we do it, it is a case of when we do it,” he said.

“It is definitely a multimillion-dollar facility and it will be upwards of probably $12m or 14m by the time we finish construction and that is taking into account the current building costs.

“We have certainly been in discussion with Government and the City of Albany, both of whom have been very supportive.”

Albany MLA Rebecca Stephens said she was looking forward to attending the conference.

“From my previous roles working with young people, I have seen firsthand the ongoing challenges and barriers they face,” she said.

“I have visited Foyer Oxford in Leederville and am interested to hear from experts from across the nation at the conference.”

Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said the City would advocate for the project.

“It’s a completely different way of approaching it, and getting these kids ready to go into ... the workforce is a very important thing,” he said.

“I think the whole idea of supporting these kids is just terrific and we would like to work with (AYSA) and whoever else is in that area so we can make it better for people down here.”

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