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The harsh reality of the crippling accommodation crisis in Australia

Northeast Youth Services Regional Manager Leah Farnham says her passion is helping young people get a stable footing in life.

Whether we turn on the telly, glimpse social media or have a natter with our neighbour, there’s no escaping the hot topic of Australia’s housing crisis. It’s everywhere. But what is it like for those who work in the crisis homelessness sector? Salvos Online writer LERISSE SMITH spoke with Leah Farnham, North-east Victoria Youth Services Regional Manager, about the harsh realities of the accommodation crisis, the joys of working with resilient young people, her passion for hope – and collecting a great bunch of humans along the way.


Celebrating every human who walks through the doors of The Salvation Army’s Northeast Victoria Youth Services is a top priority for Leah and her team.

Chat with Leah about her work, young people and her staff, a “great bunch of humans” as she fondly describes them, and it becomes immediately apparent she’s greatly passionate about her role as the Regional Manager of the youth services team.

She also calls it straight when describing the challenges of working in a sector. Dominated by a constant stream of news headlines about the accommodation crisis and the harsh fact that young adults aged from 16 to 25 who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of being homeless simply cannot access the private rental market, Leah says it’s tough – and she feels for all those who work in the homelessness sector.

“It’s super hard,” Leah emphasised. “Beyond hard.”

But holding hope close at all times is the positive dominating force, a ‘big thing’ working in the homelessness sector, coupled with celebrating their little wins with the young people.

“To have hope is so important,” Leah explained. “To keep morale up for your staff because they have to make tough decisions. They are not in it (the sector) to make those tough decisions, they’re in it to help people. So, it’s always going to be a challenge. They come into this sector because they want to make a difference, to make a change, and they have these hearts of gold.

“It can be really demoralising for the staff, and so it is about making sure that we celebrate every human that we get in and every small win because we’re not getting those big wins. We are not into getting young people into the private rental market and not seeing that sustainable social housing outcome.

“It’s really important to grow super passionate humans into our sector that understand what young people are going through.”

“So, it is about, did they go to school today? Yes, they did. That’s fantastic! Did they learn how to cook a meal today? Absolutely, they did. That’s great! Our team and our team culture are just fantastic. I’ve collected such a great bunch of humans along the way. And they’re all so different and so quirky. But they all gel and get along really well.

“If you don’t have that hope, then you’ll start to drown out the outcomes for young people. So, it is about how do we keep our staff safe? How do we make them feel supported and celebrated? I think that’s something that we really do well, and that’s what helps us generate really great outcomes for our young people. And I’m really excited about continuing that.”

Family reconciliation

The Youth Services program has a new family reconciliation pilot program that they are running alongside new accommodation in Shepparton, with one of the beds dedicated to family reconciliation. It is for young people experiencing interpersonal conflicts within the home, with a worker coming alongside the young person and family.

On top of that, they hold the biggest contract in the Northeast for youth justice programs, plus have group conferencing, diversion and community support services and “a whole heap of stuff in that sphere” too.

A key focus for Leah and her team is to engage the wider social work community services sector to see that working in homelessness is a positive and rewarding career.

Northeast Youth Services Regional Manager, Leah Farnham, and Rob Ellis, State Manager, discuss the opening of the new Shepparton facility with local TV station, WIN.

“It’s really important to grow super passionate humans into our sector that understand what young people are going through,” she said.

“But also, that they, the staff, feel a sense of rapport with each other, so we can support and develop sector-wide responses and culture.

“Secondary to that part is The Salvation Army itself. We have such great internal resources, and we’re lucky enough here in Shepparton; that our team at a state level are really working hard to look at transitional housing for young people out of accommodation and being able to be supported through the Mission support funding in order to look at other ways that young people can transition is really fantastic.”

The other key component of the Youth Services’ focus is the young people themselves.

“Our young people excite us the most,” Leah said.

“It doesn’t matter how many young people we get through the door; it matters to us when we do get a young person, and what does that young person look like at the end of their journey? Have they gained something from their experience with us?

“Young people have so much personality, joy, love and hope, and it truly is a joy to be at work and watch your team and your leaders engage with these young people and to see the joy on staff and young people’s faces when that happens.”

“If I was to have a crystal ball and look at what would happen in five years time, if we can have staff that are engaged, happy, with a great culture, and we have young people achieving whatever goal that they need, and we have transitional housing – then that would be my goal.”


New youth crisis accommodation facility opens in Shepparton. Click here to read the story.


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