Lani* is 19 and lately she’s taken a keen interest in cooking and has decided she wants “a decent job” that complements her interest in computers. Six months ago, that would have been unthinkable.

Then, Lani was living in a group home for young people, using substances and isolating herself from the world. She basically lived in her bedroom.

Today, Lani has a place she can call home and goals that extend to study and saving for a car.

Lani is one of 11 young people living in supported accommodation units run by independent family service organisation Berry Street as part of its Going Out and Living Successfully (GOALS) program in the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland.

In the 12 months since it was established, the GOALS program has received 45 referrals as Berry Street, alongside other Latrobe Valley agencies, deals with the impacts of a family violence incident rate twice that of the state average.

$300,000 Latrobe Health donation

GOALS is a program made possible through donations, including the $300,000 gifted to Berry Street by Latrobe Health Services in May of last year.

The donation to Berry Street was one of three donations by Latrobe Health totalling $1M in response to the Coronavirus pandemic and the anticipated rise in issues of family violence, mental health issues and homelessness.

Twelve months on and the units in Traralgon and Morwell are full and the young people living there are learning to drive, studying, working, saving and planning for their futures.

Berry Street’s Team Leader of Community Programs Courtney Pulis (pictured here with Acting Regional Director Sam Daley) says the financial support received from Latrobe Health not only helps to provide stable housing – all the more critical post-pandemic as regional real estate prices surge and rentals are harder to come by – but also hope.

“The funding we receive to run GOALS is the reason these young people have a roof over their heads,” Courtney said.

“The young people have a two-year tenancy here and we support them to become independent. Some are studying, some are working full time and they are able to save. Since participating in the program, threee of our young people have now been able to secure a traineeship”

“The tenants that have been here longer become role models for the others, they take them under their wings. It’s beautiful.”

Commitment to community

Latrobe Health CEO Ian Whitehead says Latrobe’s donations to Berry Street, Anglicare Victoria and Quantum Support Services are a great source of pride for staff and members, who take the business of being ‘the health fund with heart’ very seriously.

“These donations are a true reflection of our values of trust and respect, accountability, shared results and empowerment,” Ian said.

“We’re really grateful to our members, who overwhelmingly supported these donations and can take credit for the part they played in making a difference to the lives of families and young people.

“As a not-for-profit fund we pride ourselves on giving back in good times and in bad. We’re committed to supporting our members and the community and to furthering their health and wellbeing – whether this be physical health, mental health or social connectedness.

“This includes working to provide greater access to health services, particularly for rural and regional communities, and standing up for our communities in times of crisis, such as the pandemic.”

“We can now see the results of this donation to Berry Street. Vulnerable young people, including couples with young children, now have stable housing and a foundation on which to build the rest of their lives.”

About GOALS

Berry’s Street’s GOALS program has received 45 referrals in its first 12 months. The GOALS occupants – young singles, couples and families – have been referred to Berry Street in the hope that the agency’s intervention will break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

GOALS provides stable accommodation and – through caseworkers who provide hands-on coaching, counselling and practical support – links them into services that help them set and achieve life-changing goals. Things like learning to drive, studying, finding work and life skills.

Berry Street’s Acting Regional Director Sam Daley says the program is more needed than ever.

“With the fires in outer Gippsland in early 2020 there was already a crisis which meant more pressure on housing in the Latrobe Valley.

“At Berry Street, we saw a drastic increase in family violence referrals during periods of lockdown last year and we know that family violence is a leading cause of homelessness.

“With high demand for properties, rental prices have increased approximately 25% and vacancy rates have dropped to 0.7%, showing how difficult it is to secure a rental.

“For vulnerable young people, it’s even more difficult to find suitable accommodation.”

More information

Read more about Latrobe Health Services and its $1M community donation, or find out more about Berry Street and the valuable work it does.

*Name changed for privacy reasons