Geelong Project goes global

A MAJOR US city is taking inspiration from Geelong to tackle youth homelessness.

Later this year, Seattle could replicate the tactics used in the Geelong Project, an initi­ative that has seen a big ­reduction in homelessness among young people.

A US-based foundation has secured a $160,000 grant to study what is needed to ­expand the project into the city, according to The Seattle Times.

An interim report — published last year — found the Geelong Project had slashed the number of young students experiencing homelessness by 40 per cent.

There was also a 20 per cent reduction in students dropping out of high school.

The multi-agency initiative, running since 2010, involves early intervention for youths identified as at-risk of leaving school, disengaging, becoming homeless and turning to crime.

The project is led by Barwon Child, Youth and Family, which works alongside organisations including Swinburne University, headspace and the Geelong Region Local Learning and Employment Network.

Three pilot schools have also been involved: Northern Bay Secondary College, Geelong High School and Newcomb Secondary School.

Swinburne associate professor David Mackenzie has been a key driver and said the initiative was well on its way to going global.

Seattle could replicate the tactics used by the Geelong Project to tackle youth homelessness.

Prof Mackenzie said three sites in Canada were replicating the Geelong Project, while one is being rolled out in Wales later this year.

Similar methods are also being tested in Australia.

“It’s gone viral, it really has,” he said. “It’s great news and something people in Geelong should feel proud of.

“Geelong was the place where it all started and this is something really significant.”

He said Seattle’s interest could be traced to 2015 when he met the Raikes Foundation — the organisation studying how to roll out the initiative in the US.

The need for action in Seattle has been rammed home with figures showing a sharp rise in youths ­experi­enc­ing volatile living ­arrangements.

In Washington state, the number of students living without stable housing rose 34 per cent between 2012 and 2017.

Raikes Foundation program officer Casey Trupin told The Seattle Times a potential pilot program based on the Geelong Project could have a major effect on tackling homelessness across the US.

“We strongly believe that we’re not going to end youth homelessness without actually keeping young people from coming into homelessness in the first place,” Mr Trupin said.

Prof Mackenzie said the project’s outcomes in Geelong had proved a “game changer”.

“If we can go down this track and reform this system, not only will it change things so much for the better, it will save society an enormous amount of money,” he said.

GRLLEN executive officer Anne-Marie Ryan said it was rewarding to see the global ­interest in the Geelong Project’s model.

“We are proud to be leading the global discussion on the importance of early intervention work that actually does keep our kids at home, at school and well on the way to a promising future in our region,” Ms Ryan said.

Article by Rusty Woodger, Geelong Advertiser, published 2/01/2019