‘This model really works’: Bridge It’s new approach to supporting young people could end youth homelessness for good

by Women’s Agenda
Wednesday 21 June 2023

Within four years of leaving state administered out-of-home care, 54 per cent of young people in Australia go on to experience homelessness.

Thirty one per cent go on to receive a custodial or community youth justice sentence, and 22 per cent make an emergency presentation for mental health.

These are damning statistics that point to a failing system stretched to the brink, where young people right across Australia are not able to access the support they need to escape the cycle of homelessness.

While frontline organisations and workers are doing their absolute best with the structures and resources available to them, the statistics show that when young people experience homelessness they struggle to exit it.

M-POWERED Collective organisation Bridge It, a charity based in Melbourne, is one organisation bringing fresh ideas and a new approach to the sector, by providing homes, community and support for young people aged 17-21 and is demonstrating a program that is transforming lives.

Bridge It is celebrating its two-year anniversary, and has just completed a pilot of its ‘Cocoon’ program, a residential program for female-identifying young people who have transitioned from out-of-home care.

Located in a heritage listed property in St Kilda, the Cocoon provides a home for the young people, along with tailored support, to help them over a period of 12-18 months to recover, stabilise, develop life skills and prepare for independent living and long-term housing.

At the Cocoon, the intention is to create a safe space that feels like a real home, providing one-on-one coaching, therapies such as massage and acupuncture, group work programs that focus on developing life skills like cooking and how to budget and lived experience mentoring.

The results have been outstanding and truly transformative, says Founder and CEO of Bridge It, Carla Raynes.

“We’ve got some pretty strong early indicators that this model is something that actually really works,” Raynes told Women’s Agenda recently.

To date the Cocoon has provided 9 young people with a home and has successfully transitioned 4 residents into private rentals, and one resident has transitioned into social housing. One young person has set up their own business, while others are thinking about travelling or have re-engaged in education. Many have experienced marked improvements in their mental health.

“What’s so exciting is that most homelessness interventions just focus on immediate safety, putting a roof over someone’s head for now. The Cocoon supports young people in all areas of their lives and creates a support network around them,” Raynes explains.

“The biggest change we’ve seen among the young people is their incredible change in mindset.”

“When they first come in, the way they think about their life trajectory is often very limited. For example, they might only see themselves in social housing, and are not able to see themselves in employment, or being worthy of having a kind partner or friends.

“What we’ve seen is that they’ve experienced a complete mindset shift, and they start to want more for themselves and aspire to the kind of things other young people do.”

One resident of the Cocoon noted their experience with Bridge It, saying: “I am surrounded by people who actually care about me and help me with things I struggle with on my own.”

Another said: “Home is a place where you feel safe, supported, and comfortable, a place where you can be yourself. The Cocoon feels like home.”

With the success of the Cocoon’s pilot program now under Bridge It’s belt, the organisation is excited about its imminent expansion.

The Cocoon currently based in St Kilda is set to undergo a renovation, and will go from being able to house 7 young people, to 16 young people. Meanwhile, a brand new Cocoon will be established later in the year.

“Within 12 months, Bridge It is going to go from being able to accommodate 7 young people at any time to 27 young people,” Raynes said. 

“It’s such a rewarding and heartwarming experience for my team to get to play a role in the young people’s lives and get to see them be able to fulfil their incredible potential. It’s because they’ve been given what most of us take for granted; a roof over our head and people that care about us,” Raynes said.

The expansion has been achieved through the support of corporates and philanthropists, however, Raynes says that she’d like to be able to partner with the government in the future to really expand the model.

So what is the most significant outcome of Bridge It’s initial success?

Apart from transforming the lives of several young people, Raynes says the organisation has been able to demonstrate a new, innovative model that is a real solution to homelessness.

The best part? It’s highly scalable.

“This model has the capacity to become national and even global,” Raynes said. “There is just so much potential and it’s hugely exciting.”