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Through the Blue Door: Advantaged Thinking in Youth Foyers


by Liz Cameron-Smith – Chief Executive Officer, The Foyer Foundation

This article was originally published in the November 2023 edition of Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity including how to access full editions.

Imagine walking through a red door. On the other side of that door, everyone you meet asks you to tell them about the hardest things you’ve ever experienced in life, again and again. They have nothing but the best of intentions and look at you with kind eyes. They call you ‘homeless’, ‘vulnerable’ or a ‘client’. This makes you feel small and unseen. They talk to each other about what you ‘need’ to fix your problems, offering temporary solutions that are better than nothing. But they don’t last long and trap you in a continuous spinning cycle with many different services and case managers.

It’s confusing and difficult to escape from. All you can do is focus on surviving each day: finding a place to sleep, a meal to eat, clothes to wear. From this place, completing your studies or finding a job seem like impossible dreams – even though you know this is what it will take to get your life on track. 

Imagine opening a blue door instead. On the other side of this door, the people you meet say one thing: ‘welcome home’. They find out about your passions, your strengths and your talents. They cook meals with you, they play music with you, and their doors are always open, any time of day you want to chat. As you get to know them, you share your aspirations, hopes and dreams. They believe in you. Together you make a deal to work together towards your goals. You are guaranteed a safe and stable place to stay for two years while you build your confidence, make friends, finish your studies and work on the skills you need to thrive in life.

Which door would you choose?

Too many young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness don’t get this choice. On average, every year for the last decade, more than 44,000 people aged 15-24 years have presented alone for specialist homelessness services. (1) Only 25 per cent of these young people asking for medium-term support received it, and just four per cent requesting long-term support were provided access to this – reflecting a system that is skewed to crisis and short-term services. (2) Three in five young people were repeat users, cycling through services again and again. (3)

This is what lies behind the red door. Despite the best of intentions, and many honourable people and organisations working hard around the clock, we have collectively failed to shift the dial when it comes to youth homelessness in Australia.

In 1989, Brian Burdekin’s report Our Homeless Children reframed housing for young people as a human rights issue. (4) Burdekin sought to ensure Australian governments – and by extension our society – would take responsibility for our next generation.

Over 30 years later, the experience of children and young people without a safe place to call home continues to be invisible to most people living in a country as wealthy as Australia.

High levels of family breakdown, neglect and abuse, intimate partner violence, juvenile detention rates and declining mental health in young people all contribute to situations of homelessness, which is why it continues to be a complex, entrenched social challenge in Australia.

We are all implicated in the society, structures and systems that produce these kinds of outcomes for children and young people. We are therefore all responsible for changing them. There is no simple solution that will work every time, for every young person, in every situation. To shift the dial on youth homelessness, we need a range of different options across the service continuum that can meet a young person where they are and open up ways to move through and beyond the service system towards a thriving, independent future. Imagine a pathway with different coloured doors along the way, leading to different places. We need more blue doors on the pathway to independence.

Advantaged Thinking in Youth Foyers

The blue door opens up the game-changing world of Advantaged Thinking. Advantaged Thinking is a philosophy and practice that focuses on the talents, strengths and potential of every young person, instead of seeing them as a set of component problems to be managed.

Youth Foyers provide more than a roof over a young person’s head. They integrate safe and stable housing for up to two years with education, employment and life skills supports. These supports are place-based, working in partnership with the local community, including education providers and TAFEs as well as employers in the local job market. Most importantly, Youth Foyers practise Advantaged Thinking and believe in every single young person who walks through their door.

Tyrah is a young Wiradjuri woman who walked through the blue door at Uniting’s Foyer Central. Tyrah’s dream is to be the first person in her family to own a home. When she talks about her family and her past, her stories describe intergenerational experiences of the child protection system, impacts of domestic and family violence, and having nowhere to live. She describes ‘feeling powerless’ in a system that was failing to support Tyrah and her family.

When Tyrah opened up that blue door, she found something different. She had the stability she needed to start a double degree in Criminology and Social Work. Tyrah gained her first university placement as a social worker, at the very institution that had once removed her from her mother’s care. Next, she gained her first job as a social worker and has now moved out of Foyer Central, towards the future she aspires to.

‘Foyer has been so life-changing for me,’ says Tyrah. ‘It not only supported me with finding employment, but also supported me in achieving my goals, particularly around education.’

Tyrah is not a one-off success story. Independent analysis undertaken by Accenture Economic Insights found that over 80 per cent of young people living in Youth Foyers in Australia exit into safe and stable housing; 65 per cent gain secure and decent employment; and Foyer residents are 60 per cent less likely to be involved in the justice system. (5)

The evidence speaks for itself: Youth Foyers are an important part of the service system because they work for young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness who are ready to learn and earn.

Lifting up young people in situations of homelessness towards independent futures prevents cycles of adult homelessness. We should be doing everything in our power to enable young people in this situation to develop the skills, confidence and capability to move towards life after the service system.

How do we scale an evidence-based solution that works?

For the first time in ten years, Australia has the opportunity to reset the policy conditions that underpin our response to child and youth homelessness through the Federal Government’s National Housing and Homelessness Plan. The temptation is to launch more pilots and invest in yet more research that will sit on shelves awaiting action. Alternatively, we could scale solutions that already have a strong evidence base, like Youth Foyers.

There is both a moral and an economic case for investment in Youth Foyers, with governments generating a six dollar return for every additional dollar invested in Youth Foyers. Scaling to 50 Foyers by 2030 would unlock outcomes for 20,000 young people over the subsequent decade, generating $2.9 billion in government savings in this time period. (6)

In 2023, there are 11 Accredited Youth Foyers across Australia, operating in every state and territory except the Northern Territory, with another one undergoing accreditation. There is also a strong pipeline of 33 new and emerging projects, with 14 ready for development within two years.

I regularly ask communities and services across Australia what their biggest challenges are when developing new Youth Foyers, and they always say the same thing: investment.

Solving this challenge is not simply about increasing investment in Youth Foyers; it’s about rethinking the way services like Youth Foyers are funded, so that every dollar invested in a Youth Foyer can go further and enable outcomes for more young people.

We need to harness new investment mechanisms, including impact investing and payment-by-outcomes commissioning models, to respond to the growing demand of young people and communities across Australia. Driving innovation in our commissioning system would not only benefit Youth Foyers, it would also benefit other relevant housing and homelessness services and adjacent policy domains.

Collaboration is Key

Transformation of funding structures and service systems is simply not possible working alone. FoyerInvest is a growing consortium of young people, community service providers, community housing providers, philanthropists, and impact investors who are committed to growing the reach and impact of Youth Foyers. We are channelling our collective action, resources and knowledge towards our common goal of 50 Foyers by 2030. Together we are building a national evidence base, aligning advocacy efforts, and developing innovative investment mechanisms needed for scale.

Through FoyerInvest and our broader network of existing Youth Foyers, I have seen people from diverse communities across Australia come together to create a joined up national strategy that is deeply rooted in place. I have witnessed organisations that would traditionally compete with one another for funding instead engage governments with a united plan. I have seen CEOs create space for young people beside them at tables with Ministers and senior government officials, in the corridors of Parliament House, and in board rooms.

This is what lies behind the blue door of Advantaged Thinking: a connected ecosystem of people and organisations working together to elevate the voice and power of young people.

Ash Cook, a former Foyer resident, credits his time at the Youth Foyer with enabling him ‘to learn how to be an adult. To have a home. To have a space that was my own. And I didn’t have to do it alone.’

No young person in Australia should ever have to navigate the transition to adulthood alone without a safe and stable place to call home. That’s why we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with young people across Australia, working towards 50 Foyers by 2030.


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022, Specialist Homelessness Services Annual Report 2022–23: Young People Presenting Alone.  https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report/contents/young-people-presenting-alone

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1989, Our Homeless Children: Report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-2510755828/view?partId=nla.obj-2513483576

5. Accenture, 2022 Under One Roof: The Social and Economic Impact of Youth Foyers, Foyer Foundation, https://foyer.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/FoyerFoundation_UnderOneRoof_FULLReport2023.pdf

6. ibid.

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity including how to access full editions.

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