T Street - for love, not money
T Street - for love, not money
18 April 2018
Major David Eldridge was instrumental in getting “T Street” (Tranmere Street Youth Refuge) up and running. He recalls how and why it became a lifesaver for thousands of homeless kids.
In the late 1970s, there were many young men living at e Salvation Army’s Gill Memorial Home for Men. This was not ideal, either for the older residents or for the young homeless.
Some staff members at the Gill, concerned about this, sought funding to establish an unemployment support group for under 25s. Major Graeme McClimont, then a young lieutenant, suggested that rather than operate a group in the Gill it might be more useful to utilise the youth centre at the Fitzroy Corps as a drop-in centre for homeless young people.
A submission to the Commonwealth Government was prepared and in the course of gathering information for the submission, a partnership with the Jesuits was developed. They paid for six months’ rent of a house at Moor St, Fitzroy, so that young people using the day program would have somewhere to live other than the Gill. The Jesuits went into partnership with us; they paid the rent of a house in Fitzroy. We were working 90-hour weeks. We were employed for the employment scheme and we just worked the youth refuge, gratis. It was done for love, not money.
We didn’t know that our Jesuit brother had signed a lease for four residents. On our first night we housed six young people, but by the end of the week the number had risen to 17. The landlord evicted us, and Lieut McClimont approached the Herald-Sun newspaper about the “homeless homelessness program”. Colonel Bram Harewood was the Australia Southern Territory’s property secretary and, without any fuss, or talking to us, he bought a house the day after the story ran. The house was in Tranmere St, North Fitzroy.
We housed both young men and young women, with a basic set of house rules that called for no violence or threats of violence, sex, alcohol or other drugs on the premises. Initially, kids could smoke inside the house, but occupational health and safety eventually put paid to that, thankfully.
Back then, nobody knew about homeless youth as an issue. Homeless people, stereotypically, were “old drunks in the park”. We saw the emergence of a group of young homeless people who for a variety of reasons – exiting children’s homes, or youth hostels, or families that had broken down – had found themselves adrift.
This was in the days before waiting lists. If a kid was homeless we had them housed that same day. It took an eviction to prompt some action, but to be fair the Army didn’t really know what it was doing, and neither did we. We needed time; we learnt on the run.
The kids were teaching us about homelessness. We didn’t have a time-limited length of stay at Tranmere St. Even after the program was funded by government and they brought in a three-month time limit for accommodation, we didn’t necessarily abide by it. We thought kids could be there as long as they needed, either in the house at Tranmere St or in the ats we subsequently received.
It took 16 years sometimes to make a homeless young person; it wasn’t something that was going to be fixed in 16 weeks.
Major David Eldridge (pictured above left with Major Graeme McClimont on the far right) is now a retired Salvation Army officer who lives in Geelong.
Read the Reflection of Mal Davies, also involved with Tranmere Street in its early days.