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Tours with a difference -

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An organisation in Melbourne is offering tours with a difference, showcasing city squats and
shelters in an effort to help the homeless.

Transcript

TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: Most walking tours feature historic sites, grand architecture or natural
wonders, but in a bid to help the homeless, one organisation is offering a walk showcasing city
squats and shelters, under the guidance of young people who've lived on the streets.

Run by one of Victoria's largest welfare groups, the tours are offered to politicians,
philanthropists, business leaders and school children in an effort to empower homeless youth and
advocate for better support services.

Natasha Johnson reports.

NATASHA JOHNSON, REPORTER: On a bleak Melbourne evening, city workers are in a hurry to head home.
But tonight, an estimated 100,000 Australians don't have one to go to. And until recently, that was
the reality for 24-year-old Russell Kelly and 20-year-old Gerri Martin.

Tonight they're leading a homeless walking tour for a group of business people, telling a sad story
of each finding themselves on the streets the at the age of 17 after a traumatic falling out with
family.

RUSSELL KELLY: I felt no nothing. I was like the forgotten ones. I had a goal that all I wanted to
do was make it to my 21st birthday. What kinda goal was that?

GERRI MARTIN: Fear and loneliness as well of not knowing what is gonna happen tomorrow and where
you're gonna be tomorrow and where you're gonna stay.

NATASHA JOHNSON: They point out the places where homeless youth sleep when they can't find a bed,
camping under bridges or riding trains to the suburbs and collecting massive fines because they
can't afford a ticket.

RUSSELL KELLY: I, myself: $3,500 in just over 16 months. Just from public transport.

NATASHA JOHNSON: They say boarding houses and cheap backpackers are often not safe.

RUSSELL KELLY: That backpackers itself is the seediest place in Melbourne. It used to be known as
"Pedo Palace".

NATASHA JOHNSON: Or there are squats in derelict buildings like this old pub.

RUSSELL KELLY: It had holes in the roof everywhere and it would like - during a day like today it
was known to just, the whole place would just fill with water and it would leak down the stairs.

GERRI MARTIN: The worst one was an old abandoned service station. That was filthy, dirty, it stunk.

RUSSELL KELLY: Did you feel that there was a real sense of community within the squat?

GERRI MARTIN: Yeah. It became quite a family thing and everyone just looked out for everyone and
took care of each other.

NATASHA JOHNSON: The tours are run by Melbourne City Mission which operates a unique wrap-around
service for homeless youth called Frontyard. It has nine services, including Centrelink, housing,
employment, health and even a hairdresser under one roof and frequently sees young people in
terrible condition.

BRETT MCDONNELL, FRONTYARD YOUTH SERVICES: There was that young guy that used to come to Frontyard
all the time and he had the same pair of socks on for nine weeks, and so we actually ended up
having to take him to the Health Service to actually get his socks peeled off his feet because they
were kind of rotted to the bottom of his feet. And he was 21. And to me, fundamentally, these are
things that young people should never have to experience.

NATASHA JOHNSON: A group of young people including Russell Kelly came up with the idea of tours for
politicians, business leaders and schoolchildren as a way of educating and advocating for more
funding or services. Frontyard says it selects clients who are well on their way out of
homelessness, providing support, a small payment and training to ensure the tours are not
exploitative or intrusive.

SHERRI BRUINHOUT, MELBOURNE CITYMISSION: Having that opportunity to expose part of their lives to
the people who make decisions affecting their future was a very powerful way that they could have
their voice. They gain an incredible sense of self-confidence and self-determination. The
connection that they have, that people are interested in their lives and that are valuing the
messages they have.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Two years ago, Melbourne's Lord Mayor Robert Doyle went on a one-on-one tour with
Russell Kelly. They made an unexpected connection which endures today.

RUSSELL KELLY: I was walking along Collins Street and I seen him on his mobile texting and I've
gone, "Good morning, Mr Doyle." And I can remember, he went to look up and do - I could tell this
was the general politician's, "Oh, hello!"

ROBERT DOYLE, MELBOURNE LORD MAYOR: (Laughs).

RUSSELL KELLY: And he realised it was me. "Oh, Russell!" And he nearly dropped the phone and shook
the hand.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Since the tour the Lord Mayor has taken a keen interest in Russell Kelly's
progress and they've met several times to discuss what more the council can do for the homeless.

ROBERT DOYLE: For me, the big thing that Russell taught me was that although he talked to me about
stable accommodation, he really talked more about sort of a pathway out of homelessness. It made it
more immediate and more personal to me. You know, this wasn't some academic exercise or some public
policy decision. This was about a real bloke and a real story, ...

RUSSELL KELLY: A real face.

ROBERT DOYLE: A real face, yeah. And so that really had an impact on me.

RUSSELL KELLY: I just remember feeling so positive afterwards, like, that I'd actually got
something across. For me it's all about, well, I've got someone high up who believes in me. He's
got faith in me and potential.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Frontyard hopes the tours challenge misconceptions.

Why can't you just get yourself out of the situation you're in?

GERRI MARTIN: It's all a catch 22, in a way. I mean, to get a job you need an address and a stable
accommodation, but to get stable accommodation, you need a form of good income.

BRETT MCDONNELL: I think one of the biggest misconceptions about youth homelessness is that because
they're young, they can go back home. A lot of the times, relationships and family breakdown mean
that young people actually can't go home. Home isn't a safe place or isn't a stable place.

FRED BATTERTON: We just don't know this is going on, do we? Living our daily lives, we don't
realise how many homeless people there are or the extent of the problem.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Opening people's eyes often translates into action. Caroline Holmstrom's
engineering company has done significant pro bono work for Melbourne City Mission since her staff
were shocked by an earlier tour.

CAROLINE HOLMSTROM: I mean, you'd never want your children to go through that. You just really
wouldn't. It would be heart-breaking.

SHERRI BRUINHOUT: I've yet to see somebody finish the tour without, um, without being compelled to
open their wallet and try to offer young people money there and then on the spot. So it absolutely
translates into very tangible effects.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Russell Kelly, Gerri Martin and daughter Taylor now have stable accommodation.
They've returned to study and are reconnecting with their families. They've still got a way to go,
but they have a future that's much brighter than the past.

RUSSELL KELLY: Yeah, look, we have I guess a lot of joy in our life. This is our little family. As
long as we can support each other, mainly mentally, then I think we can get through pretty much
anything because of what we've already experienced.

TRACY BOWDEN: Natasha Johnson with that report from Melbourne.