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Thanuja Hiripitiyage has worked in the homelessness sector for close to a decade, with a deliberate focus on early intervention. As Program Manager for ac.care’s Murraylands Homelessness Service Thanuja has spent the past five and a half years securing the Studio Purpose project, a collaborative initiative between local agencies and community partners, which provides stable housing, a safe environment and extensive support for young people.

“Homelessness is a broad social issue and vulnerable people cannot overcome serious challenges in their lives without support,” Thanuja explains. “But if we provide an environment where young people are supported and have the opportunity to dream, they can build a much better future and the sky is the limit.”

‘We all have our stories of hardship and setbacks, but they should not define us as a person.’

In this piece, Thanuja shares her thoughts and insights about what it will take to tackle homelessness in South Australia.

Making the dream a reality

Looking for new ways to support vulnerable people and make a difference in their lives so they can move towards independence and a better future is what drives me to seek innovative approaches in the homelessness sector.

I came to Australia in my early 20s from Sri Lanka to pursue the opportunities this nation offered. Sadly, we have families and young people who don’t have the opportunities to benefit from safe homes, enough money to live on and positive relationships, through no fault of their own, despite being born into this affluent nation.

Studio Purpose is a vital initiative because it provides a safe environment for young people to keep connected to their regional community, land, country social networks and support to achieve their dreams.

The newly developed apartments not only provide safe and stable accommodation, but our support staff and volunteers are here to mentor, guide and teach. Meanwhile, as a service, we are also constantly learning from the young people in this journey to ensure they receive the support they need to build a better future.

My initial memories of the project are speaking to the local council to ask what information they would need to approve a housing project and then meeting with Habitat for Humanity South Australia to discuss what was just a vision at the time to provide safe homes in the region.

Since then, there has been years of work in the planning, preparation and delivery of the project, including forming partnerships and a service model bringing various agencies together for the benefit of young people. This was a key element of the project and then the final 12 months, including the build, moved very fast to get where we are today, with four young women now benefiting from the new safe accommodation and positive relationships provided through our support program.

Collaboration with the South Australian Housing Authority, AnglicareSA, other agencies, City of Murray Bridge and the community has been extremely important. Not one person or service is able to achieve anything like this in isolation and we can achieve much more by working together with the support of the community.

While there was a shared passion to make this project a reality, it was still surprising to see it all come together and the level of support in the community to get behind a solid vision to provide support for vulnerable young people to move towards independence and a brighter future.

There were hurdles to overcome every step of the way to meet requirements and secure funds, but we did not lose sight of the vision and the results continued to be overwhelming to move the project forward, including generous donations of time, supplies and funds.

The bigger picture

The social services sector cannot tackle homelessness alone. All government and non-government services, health agencies, philanthropic causes, businesses and the community must work together with a common purpose to lift people out of poverty and ensure they have safe homes and enough money to live on.

‘We must focus on root causes of trauma. Let’s focus on providing opportunities with support and early intervention and a holistic approach to improving people’s lives.’

We need more social housing to accommodate people locked out of the market due to their financial capacity. But while housing is a vital first step for those at risk or experiencing homelessness, we must also provide services to allow vulnerable people to overcome barriers and work towards a more sustainable and secure future.

I am fortunate to have the capacity within my role at ac.care to push some boundaries within service provision and be a social advocate to create opportunities with a focus on education and personal support for Australians facing situations of crisis.

Hopefully Studio Purpose demonstrates that with meticulous planning, collaboration and dedication to a vision, anything is possible. I would be thrilled to share what I have learnt through the project with anyone else hoping to pursue a similar vision and we hope that Studio Purpose inspires service providers in other regions to develop similar projects to support and provide safe homes for vulnerable youth.

We are immensely proud of our achievements so far, however, we also need funding for ongoing service delivery to support the young people accommodated through Studio Purpose. This will ensure the pilot program is secure in the longer term to provide the essential support services so that these vulnerable youths can use the stability of safe accommodation as a basis to build a better future for themselves.

Find out more: www.accare.org.au/studiopurpose/