Foyer Oxford is at the heart of a vibrant Perth community

Leederville in Perth’s inner city has become one of the city’s most desirable neighbourhoods. Its bustling retail and café strip is filled with students and young workers employed in creative pursuits.

When Foyer Oxford opened its new building in Leederville in February 2014, the suburb’s revitalisation was still in its early stages, but its vibrant character has been accelerated by the Foyer’s presence on Oxford Street.

Foyer Oxford is adjacent to North Metropolitan TAFE and is the largest Foyer in Australia –  or anywhere else in the world.

It accommodates 98 young people at any one time who have been, or are at risk of homelessness. Its resident live in furnished, one and two-bedroom units and larger units which are called penthouses.

In addition, it has commercial tenants on its ground floor which include a Pilates studio, a café and the offices of the Youth Affairs Council of WA.

“The intention was always to go big,” says Foyer Oxford manager John Thomson (pictured below). The Foyer is a joint venture of Anglicare WA, Foundation Housing and the adjacent North Metropolitan TAFE.

Foyer Oxford’s development was, in part, a response to the level of homelessness in WA early in the 2010s when housing unaffordability was exacerbated by the mining boom.

John was a youth worker in his native Scotland for 12 years before he moved to WA in 2013 and joined the team shortly after the doors opened in Leederville, but this wasn’t the beginning of the Foyer Oxford story.

“In fact, during its two years of construction we operated a prototype Foyer in a pre-existing 13 unit building close by.”

Foyer Oxford apartments are designed for people aged 16 to 23 who are motivated to connect with employment and training. The accomodation for 98 residents includes 24 units for young parents and their kids while residents with disabilities are also catered for.

Like all accredited Foyers in Australia, Foyer Oxford and its residents make a commitment to each other which is called ‘The Deal’.

The residents sign a tenancy agreement and commit to attend school, a course or maintain their employment. They also agree to work one on one with a Foyer case manager to plan and achieve their goals.

The Foyer’s residents are a diverse bunch but at any one time it might, on average, be composed of six per cent who are in the NDIS scheme, 15 per cent who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and 25 per cent who have had a prior care experience.

About 60 per cent have a diagnosed mental health condition which puts it in accord with most statistics. The rate of mental health issues is higher among homeless young people compared to others aged 16 to 25 years old.

Of those living at the Foyer Oxford, about 30 per cent study at North Metropolitan TAFE and the others are working, or studying at other universities or schools.

A survey of the hundreds of young people who have moved through Foyer Oxford since it opened shows that 93% of them progressed into sustainable ‘positive accommodation’

Unlike other Foyers in Australia, Foyer Oxford charges a flat rental fee rather than a percentage of a resident’s income. The reason it says is that a charge say, of 25 per cent of a resident’s income, can act as a disincentive to working more.

So, the fee is $138 a week for a general entry one-person apartment and $161 a week for a larger one-person apartment called a penthouse. The rental includes utilities.

John says the fee structure is about preparing residents for their exit from the Foyer which should be within one or two years of entering.        

 “We want to break dependency, so subsidised rent can be limiting.”

Foyer Oxford does not initiate a leadership program among residents like many other Foyers.

 “We have in the past, but it wasn’t a particularly positive experience for the rest of the community. While 20 to 30 per cent of residents are actively involved in the life of the Foyer community, many others are happy to live their lives independently pursuing their own goals and plans.”

However, as is part and parcel of the Foyer ‘deal’ across Australia, Foyer Oxford residents work with staff and case managers to work on their goals. This can involve placing them into specific projects that match their interests and talents.

“We have strategic partnerships, so we increase the offer of what young people can set out to do”.

As the Foyer’s website explains: “We work closely with Leederville Connect, the local business and residents’ association, and welcome Leederville residents to learn more about Foyer Oxford during our public open days and events. We also prioritise volunteer registrations from people who live locally.”

A survey of the hundreds of young people who have moved through Foyer Oxford since it opened shows that 93% of them went into sustainable ‘positive accommodation’.

“Most go to private rental and a third have a positive reconciliation with family,” says John.

Each person who lives at the Foyer has a designated support person who follows them through their journey and helps them achieve their goals. At the same time, the residential youth workers are responsible for establishing an ethos of independent living and the acquisition of skills as a basic tenet of the Foyer ‘offer’.

“Over 500 young people have gone through Foyer Oxford ” says John. “Those who have studied have done everything from chemical engineering to lab assistants to nursing.”