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Wednesday, 31 May 2000
Page: 16739

Mr BYRNE (7:30 PM) —One of the benefits, if not one of the privileges, of being in public life, particularly as a new member of parliament, is having the opportunity to meet with people whose lives are dedicated to constructively changing the lives of others, to basically helping people who are unable to help themselves and to witness programs that help people to get their lives back on track. I had the benefit of actually meeting with a person and coming into touch with such a program when I attended the opening of the Lighthouse facility, which is based in Keysborough, on 17 May this year. This is a facility and a program that basically offers a second chance to what I believe is our most precious national asset: our youth.

I would just like to briefly discuss this program because I note that many of the people who work in programs like this and perform these sorts of community services are very underrecognised, and many times these people wonder whether or not it is worth while. To people like them, and to many others throughout the community, I say that, yes, it is. In many cases, they are the glue in our community—the much underrecognised glue, the very essential glue, the glue that holds this place together. I would particularly like to pay tribute to this program and mention it briefly in my acknowledgment of their passion, their tenacity and their commitment to making the lives of our youth better. I will take up the remaining time discussing this particular program so that many others may become aware of it and the benefit that it has in our community.

The Lighthouse program itself provides a long-term family environment, care and support to young people aged between 15 and 22 years who would otherwise be homeless. There are currently four homes operating in Victoria—in Toorak, Middle Park, Geelong and, the one that I attended, in Keysborough, which actually came as a donation from a philanthropist businessman, Ralph Todisco. The Lighthouse is unique in meeting many of the long-term needs of disadvantaged young people. The emphasis is on relationships and community, giving the young people an environment where they are trusted and challenged and can thrive intellectually, physically, socially, spiritually and emotionally. A sense of being and a sense of belonging is encouraged. This foundation was established in 1991 to support the work of its founder, Susan Barton, the moving spirit behind this particular enterprise.

This facility is for young people who are `at risk' or homeless. They frequently come from a background of abuse and have complex problems, including mental illness and general health problems, drug abuse, limited education, unemployment, limited life and social skills, financial disadvantage, challenging and antisocial behaviour, juvenile justice history and psychological adjustment difficulties. In many cases they have suffered the effects of disruption in their family life, accommodation and schooling, or because of their antisocial behaviour are unable to live at home. The program offers a broad range of services which include life skills, food, shelter, support, family therapy, family mediation, education, intensive case management, counselling and socialisation as well as extensive outreach services. These services now, I understand, are enhanced by an in-house psychologist. It is interesting to note that these particular services are being offered with virtually no government assistance. That is not a criticism of the government; this is a very community based organisation which is reaching out into the community and being rewarded by the community. Given that there are only four of these such facilities in Melbourne, I would certainly encourage greater community awareness of the good work that is being done by this particular organisation and the outcomes it achieves and would encourage greater community participation in it.

The statistics of the 128 young people who have been through this program show that many had been homeless, had extremely violent family backgrounds, had been using harmful drugs, had extreme mental illness and had been victims of sexual abuse. Seeing these young people who have put their lives back together again through this program, with the support of their peers and the people who are in this program, offers great hope to our community. This is a program that should be supported. I would like to commend those who have been involved in this program, particularly Susan Barton and a young youth worker called Leah Bastian. I would like to thank the people who shared their experiences with me, young people like Malcolm who six months previously had been homeless and is now an apprentice to a leading chef in Melbourne. This is a great program, it should be recognised and it deserves community support. (Time expired)