Award-winning help for the homeless

Chair of Youth Projects, Melanie Raymond, was awarded the Order of Australia on Australia Day in recognition for her work with Melbourne’s homeless and disadvantaged.

Despite feeling flattered by the award, Ms Raymond said recognition was not her focus.

“I’m really honoured to be on that list, but nothing could be further from my mind. Not-for-profit is not a sector to get into if accolades are what turn you on. In saying that, it is lovely when someone recognises your work,” she said.

Ms Raymond first became involved with Youth Projects 19 years ago. After running for local council in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, she was introduced to the organisation and was asked to join the board. Shortly after, she became its chair.

“There were lots of problems to solve at the time, but we came through that really well and have grown and prospered since,” she said.

Youth Projects extended its services to the CBD in 2002 when it opened “The Living Room” in Hosier Lane.

The Living Room is a primary health service that provides free healthcare and support to the homeless and disadvantaged.

“We opened The Living Room in response to a lot of issues surrounding homelessness and addiction in the CBD at the time. It’s a unique approach when you offer a wrap-around service in the one place. It’s difficult

work, but everyone we see has numerous needs so it makes it easier for them,” Ms Raymond said.

“We take a multi-disciplinary approach at the very front lines of homelessness. It really increases the impact of what we do if we can capture their needs at the moment they come through our doors.”

The Living Room has showers, laundry services, doctors and mental health and drug counsellors on site for those in need of immediate help.

Computer and internet access is also available, as well as a safe common area, kitchens and meals.

“We put all the help in one place so people can find what they need in the one organisation,” Ms Raymond said.

Ms Raymond and Youth Projects aim to help their clients in all areas, from everyday support right through to helping them gain employment. Life-skill classes are regularly taught at Youth Projects where clients learn about cooking, nutrition and employment training.

Homelessness, in the CBD especially has currently become a hot topic of discussion. However, Ms Raymond told CBD News the crisis had been in plain sight for years.

“We know the numbers of homeless people are growing. We know that from all the data let alone what we can see with our own eyes,” she said.

Regarding the way homelessness has been addressed lately, Ms Raymond said there had been a lack of consistency in policy and response from different levels of government. She also noted the complexity of the issue.

“I certainly don’t believe there’s anything fun about being homeless or that providing people with basic human needs is encouraging homelessness,” she said. “Their needs are so much more complex, their lives and their stories are all individual and it’s wrong to categorise people who are homeless and at the lowest point in their lives in such negative terms.”

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