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Burlendi addressing youth homelessness during a housing crisis

Megan Elms, who developed the Lead Tenant program, with a young person who has benefited from the youth services in South Australia.

Australia is in the midst of a housing crisis, with secure accommodation often in short supply.

For decades, Burlendi Youth Shelter in Adelaide has been an important place for young people with nowhere to go, offering somewhere to stay and a way forward.

Paul Mundy, Team Leader at Burlendi, says addressing youth homelessness is an increasing challenge.

Paul Mundy, Team Leader at Burlendi.

“The young people come in, we work with them, stabilise their mental health,” Paul explains. “We get them ready for a property, but there’s been a couple of residents over the last year that have turned 18, and we haven’t had places for them to go.”

Burlendi offers accommodation for young people aged 15-17. The program provides 24/7 support to help the residents develop the life skills needed to transition to adulthood.

The Burlendi program, which started in 1984, was opened to address youth homelessness in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, but South Australia is currently undergoing a housing crisis. About 30 per cent of renters are experiencing rental stress, and the number of affordable vacant properties is plummeting.

“Two years ago, they would have been able to find a place,” Paul explains. “The rental market is a struggle right now, and I see a lot of people come into the homelessness sector who just can’t find a rental.”

Young people have fewer available resources and benefits compared to other demographics. Affordable accommodation services often adapt rent based on residents’ incomes, resulting in young people having lower earning potential and facing potential stigma.

Several young people who have transitioned from the Burlendi program have found support through share houses formerly operated in a Lead Tenant program. The Lead Tenant program was developed by Megan Elms, manager of Youth Homelessness.

“When I came in eight years ago, we had these properties that were meant to be affordable housing,” says Megan. “We had young people transitioning out of Burlendi, and we often found that time living on their own resulted in an increase in isolation, which impacted their mental health. We needed a better option, so we made use of the houses.”

Following the Lead Tenant model used interstate, the initiative grew from one house to four. The Lead Tenant model places young people in shared accommodation with live-in mentors, also known as ‘lead tenants’, who model life skills. The local church community supported the shared accommodation with dinners, transport to events, and Life Groups.

“The Lead Tennant part changed over time,” Megan says. “The adult volunteers outgrew the community or got married. We adjusted the model and filled the rooms, so these houses are more of a shared living environment with case management attached.”

The Burlendi Youth Shelter in Salisbury in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

The young people are offered a place in the shared living accommodation with the understanding that they are pursuing employment, education, or a willingness to volunteer.

“It makes all the difference,” Megan explains. “We have seen how it impacts young people to have stability and accommodation to meet their goals.”

Young people involved in the share living houses might stay for a number of years, but almost all of the outcomes have been positive, with residents choosing to move out when they feel able.

“They move on organically,” Megan says. “One of the original young people is still there, but they’re working and studying. One reconnected with family. Another’s employed interstate, one moved into a house with their partner. One of them worked with a sibling to run a pizza place. What we know about young people is that you can’t make your way in life until you feel safe.”

With no end to the housing crisis in sight, young people in urgent need are not often the priority. The need for safe housing and a stable community has never been more evident, even if it’s in short supply.

“I want young people to have stable education, improved mental health, more engagement with community, but they need secure housing,” Paul explains. “Without the Lead Tenant set-up, some of the young people wouldn’t have had a chance. A lot of the time, what they need is that community to help sustain it.”

Visit the MySalvos Homelessness Week toolkit at:


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