Marita Hagel (she/her) is a team leader at Melbourne City Mission who runs two early interventions programs – Detour and Western Reconnect (Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung Land). These programs provide case management and coaching to help young people who are at risk of homelessness, or newly homeless, to achieve their goals.

“Early intervention support [is] about preventing young people from entering the homelessness system, or becoming entrenched if they have had to touch base with housing services.

It’s not just about having somewhere to live, it’s being able to have living skills, it’s being able to afford the place you live in, as well as connecting to your community and having supportive people around you.

–Marita Hagel

The programs Marita leads can provide mediation and family counselling to support the young person to stay at home if safe to do so, which is a long-term benefit not only for the young person but the whole family. Alternatively, for young people who are either not safe with family or are a bit older, they can offer comprehensive support with other independent options such as private rentals or share housing.

“We’re providing a stable adult in their life who’s non-judgmental, who really cares about what’s happening for them, and understands the system.

“If you don’t have that, you’re going from day to day reacting in crisis mode. That’s not healthy. To be an active citizen, or to work or to go to uni, you need that stability.”

“Once I was working with a young person who was in a very unstable home environment. Both parents were very emotionally abusive towards her. She was very bright and wanted to study science. She got accepted into the science course but it was over the other side of town.

“As a youth worker, you try and see the whole picture for what’s going on for a young person. It’s not just one particular issue – there’s a whole bunch of things going on, as well as structural issues that are impacting on their life like housing affordability or access to services.

“We managed to get her into some supported accommodation for her to pay for with her Centrelink while she was studying. At this accommodation there were youth workers on site who could support the young people, they had their own private space, but there was also communal space, so she’d get involved in activities.

“She became part of a really supportive community. That provided the stability for her to be able to continue her studies and get on with her life - and get some mental health support to be able to process some of her trauma as well. That was really amazing to see.”

Marita and her team have unique and specialised skills to make amazing change in young people’s lives. But unfortunately, their efforts can also be undercut by structural challenges that work against young people.

“The hardest thing about being a youth worker is working within the limitations of the system. There isn’t enough affordable housing. Sometimes social housing is the only option for our young people if they’ve got too much going on and can’t afford private rental. Also, sometimes real estate agents don’t want to rent a house out to someone who’s got casual work or is on Centrelink.”

Marita believes youth work is a smart investment because of its flexibility to meet young people where they’re at. When done properly, and backed by sustainable funding, early intervention youth work can prevent issues becoming entrenched and having long-term life impacts.

Youth work matters because young people matter. We are trying to meet them where they’re at and understand that their life hasn’t been easy, but they’ve still got so much potential. We’re trying to help them tap into that potential.

–Marita Hagel

Marita shared their story as part of YACVic’s Youth Work Matters campaign. Find out more about the campaign here. 

You can also read more stories of how youth work supports young people here.