Goodna Street Life Op Shop president Helen Youngberry and vice-president Steve Purcell
Goodna Street Life Op Shop president Helen Youngberry and vice-president Steve Purcell Rob Williams

'I'm not closing': State prepares to shut down homeless hero

EVERY day a steady stream of destitute people hit rock bottom and are forced onto the streets.

Some of them have escaped domestic violence, some have recently been released from jail or have fallen on hard times while others are drug addicts, unemployed, have mental health challenges or don't have a family to turn to.

They are all destitute and they are all homeless. Goodna Street Life has been the refuge countless people have turned to for support and a place to stay for more than three years but the State Government is trying to shut them down. The not-for-profit and fully self-funded organisation has been operating beyond the limits of an order to close down their three refuge homes for a week and founder Helen Youngberry isn't about to back down.

The unique organisation is unlike any other service for homeless people and it doesn't fit under any legislation within the Queensland Government Department of Housing and Public Works. The organisation manages three refuge houses for homeless people and a charity shop for household needs. It is self-funded for up to $300,000 a year. The other side of Goodna Street Life provides social and emotional support, food donations, services and aid to countless people who turn up off the street.

Goodna Street Life does not match the for-profit business model under the Residential Services Accreditation Act and the State Government will not provide the essential funding for them to be accredited under the Housing Act which encumbers community organisations. A letter from the department dated June 25 gave Ms Youngberry 30 days to kick out close to 15 clients and close the charity. She didn't and she won't. "We are community housing but nobody has ever pushed that button to accredit us without funding or control. There is a loophole but it has never been tested in Queensland," Ms Youngberry said.

"These people are human beings and I am not getting rid of everybody. This is why we are bucking the system. The department is fighting a losing battle. "I made these people a promise. I promised to get them well and get them out. If these people think I am going to break that promise, they have another think coming because I am not going to be like them. I protect them like I protect my family. This is not going to stop me."

The State Government religiously refers homeless people to Goodna Street Life but refuses to provide funding.

Queensland corrections and mental health services, Ipswich Hospital, Homeless Hotline, Salvation Army and Mission Australia all send people in need to the Ms Youngberry and her team.

Steve Purcell has been working with the charity and the State Government for two years in an attempt to cut through the red tape. "The government is referring people to us but they won't take responsibility," Mr Purcell said.

Mr Purcell said the Department of Housing and Public Works did not provide alternative housing options for the people they were instructed to evict by June 24.

"I told them it is with regret I cannot comply with the cease notice because my obligation to provide care for my community and keep them safe is in conflict of that," he said.

"I have made my position clear, I will not put these people on the street.

"They want to dictate how we operate if they fund us. It's turned into a commodity and completely de-humanised the whole system and we are never going to be that.

"We are going to continue to do what we do regardless of the accreditation and we have to jump through the hoops then we will. We're not going to stop prioritising people. "These are real lives and they want me to focus on bureaucracy."

The Department of Housing and Public Works did not respond to questions in time for publication.

Setting a precedent

GOODNA Street Life is setting a precedent

Founder Helen Youngberry says current Queensland Government crisis housing legislation fails to support homeless people - and she's out to set an example.

"They make half of these people homeless because homeless people's mental health lets them down, drugs and alcohol lets them down," Ms Youngberry said.

"The services this government funds are the reason why homeless statistics are going up. It's not rocket science. Fix the issue and fix homelessness. If we do make an inroad, we pave the way for other organisations like us..

"That makes me more determined to keep going. We could open up another branch for people to go to. They can come at us but I'm not going anywhere. I have the utmost respect for rules when they make sense. I don't want to fight the system. I just want to help the people. Just let us do what we do for our community."

Ms Youngberry said the aim of Goodna Street Life was to provide homeless people with the basic essentials for independent living.

"We do what we do because the majority of the systems in place are broken due to a lack of money, ignorance or ideology," she said.

"We don't affiliate with anybody or come under any banners because once you do that people start attaching rules and you become what everybody else is - that's a part of the problem."

"We make our own rules and

we are governed by ourselves. We do not move from that foundation.

"I wouldn't take a million dollars from the government."

Countless cases of homelessness and destitution

Goodna Street Life Op Shop president Helen Youngberry and vice-president Steve Purcell
Goodna Street Life Op Shop president Helen Youngberry and vice-president Steve Purcell Rob Williams

WITHIN five minutes on a weekday morning, two people walk off the street and ask homeless support organisation Goodna Street Life for help.

One man needs a home and the other needs $3 to catch the train.

Founder Helen Youngberry and vice-president Steve Purcell have seen countless cases of people needing similar help, and more.

A man needed help to find a rental home with his son, a young homeless boy was re-united with his family in Western Australia and a mum and her children were housed after they escaped a domestic violence situation. Others were given money for a GoCard or petrol so they can buy food.

These are basic services people need to get through the day. They are just the sample of heartbreaking cases of destitution, marked with a future of possible death, Goodna Street Life has helped people escape.

"I had one bloke come in and he was all but dead. He had too many drugs," Ms Youngberry said. "Between us and a rehabilitation centre, he now has a house and a job. He will tell you to anybody's face we saved his life. If it wasn't for us he would be unequivocally dead.

"It just re-affirms we are needed. You go to bed knowing the fight tomorrow is worth it."

Goodna Street Life operates three houses. Each is different to accommodate different demands.

They are drug and alcohol free and one is a drug re-hab house.

"We teach them how to live and skills like budgeting and food shopping, engagement and healthy relationships. We teach them how to live because when some people are released from jail they don't know how to live without what put them there in the first place. A lot of it is drug addiction," Ms Youngberry said.



Ipswich council doubles its parking fine infringements

premium_icon Ipswich council doubles its parking fine infringements

A new report reveals residents' major complaints to the council

Rum, sleeping pills and knife a bad mix for pub regular

premium_icon Rum, sleeping pills and knife a bad mix for pub regular

He removed a large knife in a sheath concealed in his pants