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Taking a helicopter view of homelessness in young people

12 May 2022 at 10:28 am
Jonathan Alley
After over 30 years battling barriers to housing, Stephen Nash is committed to prevention rather than a cure. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Jonathan Alley | 12 May 2022 at 10:28 am


Taking a helicopter view of homelessness in young people
12 May 2022 at 10:28 am

After over 30 years battling barriers to housing, Stephen Nash is committed to prevention rather than a cure. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Stephen Nash, who was appointed CEO of Kids Under Cover in late 2021, understands how homelessness for young people occurs. 

In his own youth, he saw friends suffer trauma leading to them being placed in the out-of-home care system. In 1989, he began working as a student on placement to reduce barriers to housing. 

Today, people under 25 comprise around 40 per cent of all homeless people in Australia: it’s a significant problem with highly complex, interwoven causes. The pandemic saw Kids Under Cover hit with a 300 per cent increase in demand for services.

Stephen Nash was appointed CEO of Kids Under Cover in late 2021

Stephen Nash was appointed CEO of Kids Under Cover in late 2021

Kids Under Cover provides scholarship programs, and its Village 21 model enables access to studio clusters established in non-traditional housing spaces to provide younger people with support and access to services. These backyard studios are built in partnership with local builders and manufacturers. 

But while Nash is committed to helping younger people already facing homelessness, he’d prefer to stamp it out altogether. As a long-time sector practitioner, Nash is all too aware that older people who are homeless began the cycle at a younger age. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Nash tells us about his background and what keeps him going day to day. 

Why did you originally move into the youth homelessness sector?

I’ve spent most of my career working in adult homelessness, with an increasing focus on adults entrenched in rough sleeping, and the most vulnerable. That was incredibly satisfying work, showing that you could actually end the homelessness of those who are most vulnerable and thought of as impossible to house. It just seems like a really obvious and important thing to do, to try and head way upstream, and stop the flow of people into homelessness. I was aware of Kids Under Cover for a long time, the role came up, and I couldn’t be happier.

Acknowledging it’s about the long game, what are some day-to-day challenges? 

Overwhelming demand and limited capacity to respond. How do we get more funding to try and stop as much youth homelessness as we can? How do we get attention and more funding, build more housing models for young people that are out of home? Or get funding to try and build more models and housing for them? How do we get a funding pipeline? How do we get governments to really see this as something really, seriously important to invest in? 

So you know,trying to think very differently and get advice from professionals in the government relations space too, to really map out, “Well, how much do we need and who controls the decision about whether that will happen? And how do we influence them? How do they need to see that information? And you know, really thinking and working quite differently in that social policy change space. That’s the kind of the realm we spend more time in now.

How do you exchange ideas, learn, or suggest things to others working in the same area? 

There is no state funded peak body for youth homelessness anymore in Victoria. The only youth homelessness funded peak body is now in New South Wales (The Y Foundation). We draw a lot of inspiration and hope from the success of the Home Stretch campaign to increase the age of support for young people in out-of-home care from 18 to 21. That was an amazing campaign headed up by Paul McDonald at Anglicare Victoria. 

A Kids Under Cover backyard studio

What are some of the things that really inspire you as the leader of an organisation?

I just love working in organisations where you’re working with a team of people that get up every morning, excited to come to work, to make a difference, trying to help people in crisis. It’s very hard, emotional work. I just love providing supportive cultures and working with all people in organisations to contribute their ideas and give us input into our own plans. I do also love to see new models emerging that are reaching into groups of people that have really struggled to get access to housing and support. I like seeing people pop up with new ideas about new cohorts, and young people coming through saying “enough… stop talking about this environmental issue, climate change, let’s sort this out”. I like people with fresh eyes and fresh energy.

How has working in this space changed the way you see the world broadly? 

I’ve mixed feelings about this: on one hand, there are a lot of good things happening. You have to remain optimistic, grab and celebrate every little achievement along the way. But it’s quite surprising how many people really do oppose change, find change difficult. Maybe Australia culturally doesn’t help with this, but if someone is standing up and getting attention for a good cause, (sometimes) people will be jealous of that attention. Why can’t they get that attention? You need to stick with people who are very positive and not getting caught up in that. I guess looking out for good news and inspiration everywhere is important. 

What advice would you offer others wanting to make change in challenging sectors such as yours? 

Personally, I’ve found business coaching to be important to challenge my thinking. Those people will really test the thinking behind what’s going on, who prompt me to look for evidence of whether things are working or not, just trying to keep you on track when things are getting really tough and you can’t necessarily see a way around problems. 

Other coaching that’s worked has been to take time out for “a helicopter view” of the organisation. What are we doing to just perpetuate problems? And how do we achieve much greater change within the organisation and the system we’re in?

Jonathan Alley  |  @ProBonoNews

Jonathan Alley is opinion editor at Pro Bono Australia.

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