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The need for an emergency accommodation service for young homeless people was identified in the Westernport Region in the late 1970’s. The response to this need was the establishment of the Westernport Youth Refuge (now Emergency Youth Accommodation) to provide emergency accommodation and support.

From the further identified needs, youth housing groups were established in the region with the aim of providing longer term housing options for young people, especially those requiring accommodation after leaving refuge.

The region’s services planned and developed a regional response to youth accommodation needs and from the early 1980’s until 1990, the Westernport Regional Youth Housing Group operated as the voice for youth housing services in the region. The organisation operated with strong ties to the Westernport Regional Housing Council as provider of Crisis and Emergency Housing in the South East Growth Corridor. During the 1980’s there was considerable growth in the development of services and the entire Westernport Region had youth housing services in place by 1990.

The Westernport Regional Housing Council continued to develop emergency housing and housing information services with EH/HISP funding from Office of Housing in both the growth corridor and Frankston/Mornington Peninsula sub regions. This included the provision of domestic violence “safe houses” managed under a unique protocol developed with the Supported Accommodation & Assistance Program (SAAP) Domestic Violence Outreach Services in the region.

Following the Victorian Review of the SAAP, youth accommodation services in the Westernport area undertook a comprehensive consultation process to develop a new service that would meet the changing needs of SAAP, retain the strong community base that had been established over the preceding ten years, and provide a quality service to young homeless people. As a result, Westernport Accommodation & Youth Support Services was developed and incorporated in January 1995.

Since then WAYSS has continued to be active in the development and implementation of innovative service models to address the issues of homelessness. In early 1996 the Private Rental Access program was funded by the Office of Youth Affairs to assist young people access the private rental market.

WAYSS has undergone further transformation with the restructure of Community Housing and the funding of the Transitional Housing Management Program. Transitional housing services are now provided to families, women and children escaping domestic violence and single adults as well as young people and those overcoming a drug dependency. The Regional Housing Council ceased operation and transferred direct service operations to WAYSS in 1997.

The organisation migrated from an incorporated association to a company limited by guarantee in September 1997 and became WAYSS Limited. A corporate governance model was adopted and the organisation is governed by a Board of Directors with day to day management by the Chief Executive Officer.

In July 1998 a voluntary transfer of auspice from Women’s Health in the South East (WHISE) of the SAAP funded South East Women’s Domestic Violence Outreach Service (SEWDVOS) took place. This service is now well established with accessible offices across the service catchment. Funding was also received to establish a Children’s Services Worker within the outreach service.

Late in 1998 discussions commenced with the YWCA of Dandenong and Westernport in relation to the transfer of the SAAP funded Women’s Outreach Program. This received approval and was formally transferred on the 1st of April 1999.

Discussions with Department of Human Services and Department of Justice commenced in 2001 in relation to the establishment of a Drug Court Homelessness Assistance Program. Supporting participants in the newly established Drug Court who as a result of chronic homelessness, would not otherwise be eligible to participate in this innovative program, was the major objective. This program was established with a staff of four supporting up to 30 individuals on drug treatment orders and their accompanying family members.

The decision of a local Women’s Refuge to relinquish funding resulted in the establishment of an interim crisis service for women and children escaping family violence. Commencing in December 2002 an interim service was initiated. This service was subsequently developed Southern Women’s Integrated Support Service (SWISS).

In March 2003 grants were made from the Community Support Fund for a three year project aimed at providing assistance by way of rental subsidies for women and children escaping family violence. In early 2007 the Private Rental Access Program underwent redevelopment to target family violence, young people and clients with mental health issues to assist with access to the private rental market.

As a result of the redevelopment by the State government of Family Violence Services which commenced in 2004 there was considerable reorganisation of the services provided. The strong focus of the organisation on meeting the needs of women and children escaping family violence saw the development of formal protocols with Victoria Police. The establishment of the first Fax Back program to respond and provide early intervention to victims further enhanced the already formalised Police links to the Family Violence Crisis Service.

Long term housing options for single people had been a major problem in the organisation’s catchment. The development of a rooming house program and the acquisition of facilities in Frankston and Dandenong was supported by the Department of Human Services. A successful submission was made by WAYSS Limited for the management of these properties.

The need to secure office accommodation in the Cardinia Shire to meet the demands of the rapidly growing community in the South East Growth Corridor had long been a major issue. In early 2005 a property was purchased opposite the Pakenham police station and has now been redeveloped to house a range of services. A lengthy redevelopment process which required the rezoning of the property was completed mid 2006.

In late 2005 WAYSS was successful in a submission to Department of Human Services – Office of Housing to provide a Social Housing Advocacy and Support Program to tenants of public and community housing. This program commenced implementation in December 2005.

As a response to the further integration of Family Violence Services a partnership was developed in late 2005 with Good Shepherd Youth & Family Services, South East Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) and Windermere Child & Family Services. This partnership was successful in submission for the delivery of increased services to victims of Family Violence.

In August 2006 WAYSS was funded to provide the Common Homelessness Access Point. This program is a change to the sector which has brought together the primary services for homeless people, the services being WAYSS, Peninsula Youth and Family Services, Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureau, Windermere and Hanover. WAYSS and Peninsula Youth and Family Services operate the Common Homelessness Access Points during business hours in Dandenong and Frankston. Hanover operates the out of business hours homelessness response. These access points are now known as Front Doors.

In early 2007 WAYSS was successful in submitting for funding under the Youth Homelessness Action Plan Stage 2. To submit for this funding WAYSS formed partnerships with Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureau, Open Family Australia and Peninsula Youth and Family Services, titled Creating Connections. For WAYSS the funding resulted in specialist youth intake, assessment and referral workers, youth housing placement, and linking young people to the private rental market.

In 2008 WAYSS achieved Registration as a housing provider and Accreditation as a homelessness assistance service.

In 2008 WAYSS received funding for the Step Ahead Program which is an intensive case management program to support young people exiting crisis residential accommodation. In 2010 the Step Ahead Program moved into a refurbished accommodation model in Berwick. Following ongoing issues with the location of the Step Ahead facility WAYSS met with the Department and a joint decision to move the program to a dispersed model was made in February 2012.

In mid 2009 the Front Door became the Opening Doors Framework. This saw WAYSS provision of Housing Services and Common Homelessness Access Point combine to become Initial Assessment and Planning workers. WAYSS officially renamed the program Homelessness Services.

Capital works began in April 2010 to build a family violence facility in Doveton known as Southern Women’s Integrated Support Services (SWISS). The complex includes a support/office/counselling facility and eight individual units for accommodating women and children who are escaping family violence. In 2011 funding was received for establishment and an as surety from DHS that recurrent funding would be increased to enable WAYSS to operate a 24/7 model. WAYSS engaged consultants with the establishment money to produce a report on the functions of SWISS, a service model, linkages and partnership implication and a financial model for its operations.

In 2010 WAYSS received new funding for family violence “Safe at Home” workers that enabled WAYSS to take a more proactive early intervention approach to women and children. The Safe at Home program will operate in close co-operation with Victoria Police and the Justice System.
In April 2010 the submission to provide Accommodation Options for Families was successful. Accommodation options for families (AOF) began as an initiative released from the Rooming House Taskforce. WAYSS was provided funding to appoint two workers to assist families who are at risk of living in sub-standard rooming houses to access private rental.
The Emergency Youth Accommodation facility rebuilding under “Nation Building” was completed in January 2011. The staff moved from their temporary location at Step Ahead to the new facility and the service began taking clients. The new facility provides 10 bed crisis accommodation for young people. The staffing arrangements for the facility have been upgraded to include a Youth Intervention and Assessment worker and Youth Outreach Case Worker. Young people accommodated by the facility have access to brokage monies for flexible support packages.

During 2010/2011 WAYSS undertook a reorganisation of its Management structure. The main reasons for the reorganisation were the growth in the programs WAYSS manages over the last 4 to 5 years, including the new facilities Southern Women’s Integrated Support Service - SWISS & EYA.
In July 2011 the Southern Women’s Integrated Support Services (SWISS) building was completed. In August staff were located to SWISS and commenced working with clients.

During late 2011 and mid 2012 WAYSS undertook considerable office relocation in the outer south. The relocations began with the decision to move WAYSS homelessness programs from Peninsula Youth & Family Services in Frankston to a temporary location in the Integrated Care Centre in Cranbourne. This precipitated the relocation of WAYSS Cranbourne programs to the Cranbourne Information and Support Service a move that have been in planning for some time. A search for a permanent Frankston home began and resulted in the purchase of shop-frontage in Fairway Street. The new facility is large enough to accommodate WAYSS IA&P and SHASP programs as well as on site Management.

In October 2011 WAYSS undertook its second accreditation review. This resulted in successful reaccreditation of the organisation.

The WAYSS office facilities in Narre Warren had been identified as inadequate for some time. Suitable premises were located in Berwick and following refurbishment the WAYSS office in Narre Warren was closed and staff were relocated to Berwick in June 2012.

Over 2012/2013 funding for the Social Housing Advocacy & Support Program was cut by 40%. The SHASP program no longer can provide advocacy, community facilities management and tenant participation services. The program was restructured to provide case managed support for at risk tenancies in public housing.

In May 2013 WAYSS received notification that the Accommodation Options for Families program has been funded for a further four years.

In 2013 WAYSS received a sizable donation from the Peter and Lyndy White Foundation. This donation was in the form of funds to purchase five properties in WAYSS catchment.

The terms of the donation stipulate that WAYSS will retain the properties for homelessness accommodation for the life of the organisation.

In December 2013, Janice Peterson, General Manager Outer South Homelessness Services, who dedicated more than 20 years to improving the plight of homeless women and children and victims of violence passed away. Driven by her passion to ensure the highest quality of practice, she leaves a lasting legacy of innovation and service development that will long be remembered.

WAYSS successfully achieved Accreditation against the DHS standards in 2014. This was the first time WAYSS was reviewed against the new standards and WAYSS received a very good outcome only incurring a few minor non-conformances. The review was completed by a new independent review body being AHA.
In line with the organisation’s commitment to women and children escaping family violence time was spent developing a submission for the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

WAYSS received funding for an additional family violence outreach position in the growth corridor as well as funding to employ a Risk Assessment and Management Panel (RAMP) Coordinator.