Property Australia

25 years helping homeless youth

Karen Jamal Karen Jamal June 15, 2021

The Property Industry Foundation has built 208 bedrooms and donated $27 million to youth homelessness causes over the last 25 years. CEO Kate Mills shares what’s next.

Over the last 12 months alone, the bedrooms built by the Property Industry Foundation have given shelter to more than 600 young people, some for one night and some for one year.160921 - Story 4 - Kate Mills

Most young people experiencing homelessness aren’t sleeping on the streets. Rather, they fall into the ‘hidden homelessness’ category: sleeping in cars, couch surfing, or staying in temporary accommodation like boarding houses, squats or severely crowded dwellings. Transitional housing, like that built by the Foundation, is a stepping-stone on the path to a brighter future.

Celebrating 25 years of hard graft, the Foundation’s work has a massive “multiplier effect,” Mills explains.

“Just one bedroom will give shelter to around 60 young people over a 20-year period, so each new bedroom that we build has a huge impact.

“Homelessness can be inter-generational and building homes for homeless youth helps to break the cycle. Our aim is often to give young people the chance of living an ordinary life.”

Mills is regularly “amazed” by the Foundation’s beneficiaries. “These are young people that come from really tough backgrounds and yet have managed to rebuild their lives.”

Mills shares the story of one young woman as an illustration of the inspiring people the Foundation and its partners support.

“Through a series of unfortunate events she fell through the cracks and ended up pregnant and homeless. Determined that her baby would not be born into homelessness, the young woman spent her pregnancy on the phone to every agency trying to secure a room.

“There was plenty of support – she could get vouchers, food packages and counselling – but there was no accommodation.” Fortunately, after connecting with of the charities supported by the Foundation, she found a room. She has since rebuilt her life and graduated from university.

“Many young people don’t need help for long, they just need a period of time with stability and security to find their feet,” Mills adds.

Mills is equally inspired by Ken Kennedy, the dynamic force who established the Foundation in 1996. Kennedy had built a successful catering and cleaning business from the ground up, but had never forgotten his own tough upbringing.

“Ken knew all the big property owners in Sydney,” Mills says. “He started saying to them: ‘You build the cities of Australia but what about these young people that are living right at the bottom?’.

“What Ken recalled from the early days is the excitement of bringing together good people from across the industry to do good work. That hasn’t changed – we still get excited by that,” Mills adds.

What has changed is the Foundation’s focus. “Building is where we can bring some leverage. When we build a six-bedroom house which costs $600,000, the pro bono and in-kind services and goods that we get mean that we build that house for $300,000 cash, with the rest in kind.”

It’s a model that stretches every dollar donated and also provides the property industry’s people with opportunities to roll up their sleeves and get involved in a building project for a great cause.

“Around 80 per cent of what we do is focused on building, with the other 20 per cent we look to fund initiatives that could have a systemic impact on youth homelessness,” Mills adds.

What’s next for the Foundation?

A new strategic plan is in the works. “Underpinning this will be a shift in how we engage with the industry and how I hope the industry will see us. In the future I would like the Foundation to be seen as more of a social impact organisation – one that the industry invests in to get a great social outcome.”

The Foundation currently builds between 30 and 40 bedrooms a year, but Mills is ambitious. “I think we can double that as we build better relations with local government to get more land releases, our charity partners and our supporters.”

For now, she’s urging the property industry to lean into the Foundation’s work.

“There are so many reasons to get involved with us. Firstly, to be part of a unique industry-wide collaboration that has a tangible impact on homelessness. When you invest in the Foundation, we build something that you can touch and feel, and we can tell you how many young people will sleep in that room.

“But, in addition, the Foundation offers so many networking and engagement opportunities. There’s a real opportunity for the industry to look at doing business with a philanthropic lens.

“The organisations that support us are normally in competition, so to have them all come together and support one cause and one organisation is fantastic.

“I think the Foundation’s work really resonates as the right cause for our industry. The property and construction industry should build homes for homeless youth because we are the people best placed to do this. If not us, then who?”

Find out more about the Property Industry Foundation.