A community-led initiative is keeping families together by putting a roof over their heads.
Home is where the heart is, and for 73-year-old Margo of Nuriootpa, that’s with her four great-grandsons.
While Margo has Bowen, Seth, Jack and Gabe in her care, she says it’s they who rescued her.
“Actually, I think they saved my life,” says Margo. “They are so caring, and they have given me a purpose in life, they really have.”
Keeping the boys together has been Margo’s priority since they came to live with her 18 months ago, but she quickly discovered that housing four lads aged between 13 and 22 was incredibly challenging.
That’s when Foundation Barossa offered her a lifeline, providing her with the first of six available youth homelessness prevention studios.
Installed in Margo’s backyard at no cost, the two-bedroom studio will be theirs for the next five years or until it’s no longer needed.
Seventeen-year-old Seth and 14-year-old Jack each have a bedroom in the pod, which has a self-contained bathroom and boasts a six star energy rating.
Margo says the studio has reduced the pressure on her small family home and given her great-grandsons much-needed space and independence.
“I think they’re relieved and settled,” she says.
“They never had a room of their own, they always had to share; there were seven in the family.
“This way they can spread out and do their own thing in their own space, which they’ve never been able to do before.
“I know what they have missed out on in life, what they have gone without, and I want to make up for that.”
Annabelle Elton-Martin from Foundation Barossa says Margo’s story is typical of the emerging crisis facing the Barossa.
“When Covid hit in early 2020, we saw an alarming spike in the number of homeless people in the Barossa,” Annabelle explains.
“Forty-four kids presented as homeless in one year – the youngest was an eight-year-old – and we knew that was just the tip of the iceberg.”
According to Annabelle, misconceptions about youth homelessness mean the issue is widely misunderstood.
“Homelessness in the Barossa looks different,” she explains.
“We’re not seeing people sleeping in doorsteps – a lot are couch surfing or sleeping in cars or caravans.
“The reasons young people are homeless are often complex and intertwined, and some have just been dealt a really awful hand.
“We’ve met some incredible young people who are in this position through no fault of their own.”
Foundation Barossa was quick to respond, providing advocacy, fundraising and a practical housing solution to help prevent family breakdown.
The philanthropic organisation partnered with Kids Under Cover to provide demountable studios that can be installed on private or public land of a family member and relocated four times on average.
“It’s about homeless prevention, trying to get to the potential problem before it happens,” Annabelle explains.
“If we can keep a family together, that’s far better than helping a young person who’s homeless.”
Statistics show young people using the studios are far more likely to attend school, complete their education and have an optimistic outlook.
“In terms of the results they deliver, young people’s optimism for the future increased from 43% to 89% and happiness rose from 18% to 94%. That’s something every kid should have, and it’s why we’re so excited by this program,” says Annabelle.
The initiative has been made possible through community fundraising, matched by a State Government commitment of $2.4 million to co-fund 51 studios in South Australia.
“We have so many people to thank; the generosity of the community has been incredible,” says Annabelle.
“We have raised over $200,000 and that continues to grow; we know there’s a lot more to do.”
Local service providers such as Centacare Barossa play a vital role providing referrals and case management.
“It is a privilege to walk alongside young people, to hear their stories and be a support as they navigate the path to safe, secure, stable accommodation,” says Case Manager Erika.
And private sponsorship like the Homburg Homeless Prevention Fund keeps the fundraising appeal growing.
Homburg Real Estate has provided over $65,000 to-date, donating $200 for every home sold and $50 for every new rental management.
Principal, Guy Draper says it’s an issue close to their heart.
“It really struck a chord, especially given our focus is on housing people,” says Guy.
“We see the degrees of hardship people are facing, we know there are homeless families doing it tough, and we saw this as an opportunity for us to genuinely make a difference and give back to something worthwhile.”
“We have met Margo and can’t think of anyone more deserving than a great-grandmother – it really is a beautiful thing.”
Margo says she’s indebted to everyone who has made this initiative possible.
“I’m just so thrilled with Kids Under Cover and I so appreciate that someone had the presence to mention it,” she says.
“It’s just made life so much easier and I guess there are a lot of people out there who could use something like this.”
Funding is currently available for further Youth Homelessness Prevention Studios.
For more information please contact Centacare Barossa on 8303 6625 or email firstname.lastname@example.org