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Breaking the cycle for youth at risk

1 April 2022

Breaking the cycle for youth at risk

Luis and his young son now enjoy a stable home and a "life that is good".

New program empowers and equips youth to turn their lives around 

As National Youth Week approaches (4-14 April), Hilary Tobias, a Salvos case manager for Youth Services in West Metro Melbourne, talks about the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) there and the impact it’s having on youth aged 16 to 25, with a lived experience of homelessness or youth services. 

Hilary also shares part of her interview with Luis Montero, a young man who experienced homelessness and is now working with other young people facing similar challenges through the YEP. 

“The YEP began in 2021 from a desire to have young people more involved in the West Metro services and to give them an opportunity to choose how the team supports them,” says Hilary. “It was also to enable young people to advocate for themselves through the service and the broader community, which gives them a chance to feel heard and respected, as well as a sense of belonging. 

“Our motto would be that we’re working with young people, not for young people. Early intervention is everything. It’s critical to stop these cycles from occurring.”

Hilary Tobias:Can you give us an overview of your early years? 

Luis: There was a lot of fighting at home as well as mental health issues throughout our family and a bit of pharmaceutical drug abuse. Iwas around 15 or 16 when Istarted to think about leaving because Ijust couldn’t handle it anymore. Iwas working before Ileft and managed to buy myself a shed, which Ibuilt in Dad’s backyard. Istarted living in the shed. 

Sadly, Mum passed away when Iwas 17. Her passing really affected my family – my dad and two sisters. We were already fighting before, but now fights with Dad would get physical. He told me Ihad to be the man of the house, and Icouldn’t handle it … so Ileft. Iwould camp in different spots in the city and walk around until the early hours … it was scary, and Iwas scared.

HT: How did you meet the Salvos? 

Luis: wanted to go back into my education. Someone from Melbourne City Mission referred me to Hester Hornbrook Academy, and Iwent to school there for about one year. A worker there linked me in with the Salvos for transitional housing, and Iwas able to go from a tiny room into a lovely share house. Iwas ecstatic because Ihave a young son [Andre], and now he can just run and roam free. We play, we plant potatoes, do art, and have a little basketball hoop … it has given me the opportunity to give Andre a life that is good. 

Ivolunteered for a year with the YEP, and now Iam employed there. Irun a life skills session for young parents, because Iam a young parent myself. Iteach them how to cook a meal. I’ll do a presentation while the food is cooking. We’ll do a quiz and then eat, talk, and get to know one another.

The general goal is just to help other young people. The world is a tough place, and sometimes you just need to cook some food and have a laugh.

HT:What are some of the greatest needs you see for youth and young adults?

Luis: Obviously, Ihave my experience being homeless, and that’s something that I’m quite passionate about. Ifeel that there’s a lot of things that could be changed there and how people are treated with it.

There are so many different, important things that young people are going through these days. And this is why Iwant more people to join us. Imight be passionate about homelessness, but there’s another person out there that’s passionate about something else, so then, “Hey, let’s talk about it. Let’s figure it out.”

HT: What is your hope for younger generations for the future?

Luis: I hope people will get a bit closer to each other or just understand their neighbour. Sometimes you don’t need a screen or a text message. Sometimes you need a real person there, so Ihope everybody becomes more empathetic and understands that not everyone is lucky enough to have food and a roof over their head.

HT: What’s one thing you want people to know about the YEP and the Salvos?

Luis: The Salvos are welcoming to everybody and anybody. The YEP is the same. The Salvation Army wants more and different people because it’s trying to understand what’s going on.

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