Adland Bail Out: How Whitelion saves lives and why your help matters

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 1 May 2018
Whitelion outreach team leader Daniel Ayalew.

More than 60 industry leaders will spend a night in YASMAR Juvenile Detention Centre on Friday to raise funds for Whitelion.

The aim is to provide industry leaders with a small taste of what it’s like for disadvantaged youth stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness, crime and, often, hopelessness.

While media and advertising execs will be able to wake up on Saturday morning, say their goodbyes and get on with their lives the, this isn’t the reality for many homeless kids that Whitelion supports.

AdNews wanted to find out more about the service and spent some time with Whitelion outreach team leader Daniel Ayalew.

Ayalew has been working for Whitelion for the past 8 years and since 2012 has been providing outreach for homeless young people, many of whom sleep rough, in the City of Sydney.

“About 90% of the young people we work with have been taken away by family and community services from the age of six months to five years,” Ayalew says.

“They don’t even know where their parents are and usually they only know one parent or aren’t in touch with them. If they are in touch with them, the chances are [the parents] are on drugs or alcohol, which is why they were removed in the first place.”

Each year, Ayalew and a small team of outreach workers provide the homeless with vital support programs, personal and leadership development, job skills and other vital services.

Ayalew will spend his days visiting different clients on Sydney’s city streets to monitor their progress and provide help where needed. He showed AdNews some popular homeless haunts in Redfern, Central Station and Kings Cross.

Outreach workers are an important link for individuals left behind by unfortunate personal circumstances and the welfare system to the agencies and services they need to survive, but are often unable to access.


Daniel Ayalew and about 10 outreach workers help young homeless people on Sydney's streets.

A vicious cycle

The majority of people that end up on our streets suffer from severe mental health illnesses and develop a drug or alcohol addiction.

“The main issues when we find them is homelessness and also they’ve gone through some form of trauma that could be abuse. They’ve gone to several foster houses and finally they’ve run away at the age of 12, 14, 16 – it depends,” he says.

“The vast majority tend to have some form of mental illness, such as depression, ADHD. Some suffer from drug-induced mental illness – drug and alcohol is just normal. The day they get paid they’re pretty much broke.”

The most high-risk cases, known intensive clients, receive support on a weekly or fortnightly basis. These are usually people sleeping rough and struggling with mental illness and crippling drug or alcohol addictions.

Whitelion supports 12 intensive clients at the moment, which Ayalew estimates costs around $10,000 each year to provide vital food, transportation, medical costs and professional help. This doesn’t include Whitelion’s own overheads.

“More than 95% of them use drugs or alcohol regularly, but it gets to the point where you have to make choices because if they continue feeding their habits they’re not going to be able to pay rent and aren’t ready to live independently,” he says.

“Some of them are not at the stage where they are ready to get help. So we keep in touch with them and whenever I see them I give them support.

“Others are really committed to get help and within three to four weeks, you can get them into transitional housing and begin the counselling process.”

Once in transitional housing, Whitelion will help individuals develop life skills, job skills. It also helps them apply for public housing or private rental.

Whitelion also provides brief intervention assistance for young people who don’t want to join a program but require urgent help, such as financial assistance, or help finding a new school. There are 10 to 20 of these interventions a year. Then there are about 200 casual referrals for services each year.

Whitelon's impact

All of the young people who go through Whitelion’s programs achieve progress on an outcome that improves their life in some way, whether it is dealing with drug and alcohol issues, mental illness, developing life skills or finding stable accommodation. 

Homeless people cost the government an estimated $30,000 per year. If a Whitelion program provides a 10% improvement to a young person's life, it saves the government around $74,000 through that person's lifetime. You can find out more about Whitelion's impact here.

These small improvements to a young homeless person can end up making a huge impact, but it requires many government services, agencies and different organisations to come together.

Whitelion works with community agencies, government and commercial partners to make it easier for young people to access services.

Part of its role is advocacy work with various agencies to make it easier for disadvantaged young people to access services. For example, most people sleeping rough have no forms of ID, and trying to get a birth certificate could be prove difficult without Whitelion’s assistance.

The harsh reality is Whitelion supports only a tiny fraction of young people who are homeless, at risk or living on the streets.

In the City of Sydney local government area that Ayalew covers, official estimates indicate there are about 500 rough sleepers. Ayalew says the real figure is easily more than 1,000 as most try to hide from authorities, sleeping in abandoned buildings, or hidden alley ways to escape attention.

More funding is desperately needed to help Whitelion hire outreach workers, ramp up its advocacy work and place more young people on its programs.

Here's how you can help. Donate towards your favourite inmate by visiting their gang: Media Owner GangCreative GangTech Gang or Media Agency Gang. You can also find out more about the event Whitelion Bailout and the charity Whitelion.

Adland Bail outHere are a handful of inmates that will be locked up at the YASMAR Juvenile Detention Centre on Friday.

A system stacked against them

Your funding is needed to give these people a fighting chance against a system that is often stacked against the homeless and rough sleepers. Many authorities still view them as a nuisance to be moved along rather than desperately vulnerable people who need help.

An example of this is the recent tent city homeless community at Sydney’s Martin Place. A group of 200 homeless people managed to receive public housing accommodation when their protests became a sensitive political issue, ahead of others who had been stuck on priority waiting lists with more pressing needs for housing.

“They gave them all available properties, about 200 of them, even though we had people on the priority list for several years who are still waiting,” Ayalew said, adding that about 30 were genuine and the rest were ‘hangers on’.

“They jumped the queue for political reasons because the State Government and City of Sydney didn’t want to be blamed for having people in front of their Reserve Bank of Australia. It’s about maintaining their name and authority rather than having to care for people.”

Whitelion provides help where there are gaps and prejudices in the system. It's a vital link to help young people escape homelessness and prevent them from becoming trapped in a vicious cycle of substance abuse, mental illness and crime. Your donation could make the world of difference to one young life that has been left behind.

AdNews news editor Arvind Hickman is one of the inmates for this year's UnLtd Adland Bail Out. You can donate towards his bail by visiting Arvind's Whitelion Bail Out fundraising page.

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