spotlight on transitional housing

q&a on foyer oxford

Earlier this year, we spent some time learning more about Foyer Oxford, a transitional housing program for young people located in the heart of Leederville. Here’s a short video explaining some of the special characteristics of Foyer Oxford and a more in depth insight into life at Foyer, from our Q&A with manager, Jethro Sercombe.

Q - explain foyer in australia in 60 seconds or less

It is a transitional housing program for young people. The two main features of Foyer in Australia are the Foyer deal, and Advantage Thinking. The Deal is an agreement between the person in the Foyer (a mutual obligation agreement). Advantage Thinking is about focussing on a young person’s strengths and capacities and then providing the right mix of opportunities to advance those talents and skills. 

The interesting thing is that those two ideas are in tension. The agreement can be experienced by young people as being punitive and institutional, pulling in one direction and then advantage thinking is the complete opposite of that. It is within that tension that the program is able to do the work that it does. 
It is a healthy tension as long as you know it’s there. If you don’t then you swing towards institutional behaviour. All our staff need to know that so they constantly need to fight against the institutional aspects of the way that they might operate. Do we make decisions for people or do they make decisions for themselves? Do we need another rule or can we just leave it? We have to keep pushing back to - what are the skills and capacities the young people have to solve this problem for themselves?

q - foyer oxford has a 'service guarantee' in the foyer deal, how do you get feedback on how you are going?

It is a transitional housing program for young people.One of the Foyer managers from the UK said to me that when you stop getting complaints is when you know you’ve got a problem. That means they’ve given up on you. I get about 5 complaints a week from young people so we have a complaints system at the front of the desk that allows the young people to feedback anything that’s not working, and I respond personally to all of them, and then action through the team on what needs to happen and what doesn’t. The Foyer deal is a ‘something-for-something’ agreement. In case management meetings, it is a dialogue. It is not just about ‘are you making it to TAFE?’ ‘Are you managing to follow through on the stuff that you said you would? It is also ‘we promised this stuff, how are we doing?’

q - what makes this foyer program work well?

Location is essential. We are in a progressive community. Being associated with TAFE helps because it has a really positive name in the community. Public transport access and recreation access is really essential for the young people’s development. There is a disadvantage to a location like this and that it that young people aren’t likely to get to live here when they leave Foyer Oxford. They usually have to go back to other communities to live and that’s the disadvantage about centralising.

The support model that we have operating here is also really important. You have to meet with your support worker, but that’s the only compulsory service provision we have. Everything else in the building, the activities, the classes are not compulsory. If the class or service is good people will turn up. And our other services are open to the community.

Scale has also been really successful for us, but you have to get the culture right otherwise you’re in trouble. We drive culture through a few things, we run a 40, 40, 20 split where 40% are actually young people who are doing pretty well, and then 20% are really doing it tough. But its the 40% that allows us to take the 20%, so we are actually able to pick up young people who would usually be too high risk for this environment.

q - are there other benefits of scale? 

It is more socially sustainable. The ability to connect with somebody that you like is important. We have had no planning for this, but we have become one of the go to accommodation spaces for transgender young people, because we have got enough scale. This means it is more likely you can find common ground and connect with someone who is like you, who has similar experiences to you. Whereas the next largest accommodation facility for young people in Perth is maybe 12, 13, or so in that space you are not going to get that diversity which means you’ve got to work really hard to understand and connect with everybody [Foyer Oxford has 98 spaces]. The other thing that happens in smaller scale is that if one young person is having a really hard time, it can throw everybody else off, and that doesn’t really happen here.

q - is community integration an esssential part of what makes the foyer model work? 

I think there is a diverse opinion about that. Some people talk about having dispersed Foyer models for example: a model which operates in different houses across a community, but in my opinion the community connection and acceptance is a really critical part of the work that we do.

q - do you think there's applicability to other groups that aren't youth? 

Yes, I think that probably one of the future projects for something like Foyer is going to be about diversification of the client group, whether that’s young people with disabilities who are transitioning into adulthood, or aboriginal young people coming out of the boarding school system who need a place to have that next connection into employment. There’s lots of young people that for whatever reason need a supported transition into adulthood.

q - what about long term homelessness, adults or high need families? 

The evidence out of the US particularly around homelessness suggests that the transitional model doesn’t seem to work so much for adults. I think part of the reason is being a young person is a transitional state in itself, so it’s a natural point of transition across a range of different spaces. But in the US the success comes from permanent supportive housing, which means getting people in housing first. They have dropped rough sleeping rates by half in major cities across the US using this permanent housing model.

What they are saying in the US about the transitional model is; you have to get off the drugs to get a house, and of course there’s a real problem there because you can’t get off the drugs if you haven’t got a house. So permanent supportive housing gives them the house, irrelevant of where they’re at, and then they wrap the support around them if they want it, and that will assist them to find a long tem gain. With the idea that by doing so you take huge pressures off the rest of the system, from the mental health system, the emergency ward, and a whole range of different organisations.

This is very different to the transitional model which says you must be at a particular point to access a service. For Foyer it’s about ‘are you ready to connect with employment?’, and ‘can you cope with congregate living?’. Youth with significant instances of violence or current drug issues for example are not going to work in a space like this. Other groups need a different model. 

q - do you see foyer as part of the youth service network?

Yes, absolutely. One of the largest groups that we turn away are young people where employment and training is clearly not where they are at the moment. This isn’t the solution for young people who are pre-contemplative in their motivational environment. That’s where other services like street based services come in, where the guys are literally working on the streets in the middle of cities encouraging young people, talking to with them about change, slowly developing motivation. We are a part of a service system, and an important part I think.

q - final question, could the model work remotely?

No, but it could work regionally. I think that that regional focus is probably the next step for Foyer. In order to make the Foyer deal work, you need diversity of opportunity, because if all you can offer is one option with the same course, then that’s not individualised enough to be motivating. The motivation comes from doing what you love, and being connected to that. So small towns are not able to do that. 

If you would like to learn more about Foyer Oxford or support this initiative go to www.foyeroxford.org.au