Schools' Couch-Surfing Myki Project

In 2014, WEstjustice began a law reform project, exploring the experiences of young couch-surfers in Wyndham. The project involved setting up Youth Couch-Surfing Legal Clinics in schools and welfare agencies, assisting 62 couch-surfers under 25 and 24 babies/children.

More clients of the Clinic sought assistance with Myki fines than with any other issue. Thirty-three couch-surfers presented with fines for travelling without a ticket and serveral had outstanding warrants and court appearances. On average, the fines totalled anywhere between $300 to $20,000.

The majority of these couch-surfers were secondary school students who were experiencing family violence. To escape the violence, they stayed at friends' houses, sometimes moving between several houses per week. They had very little if any financial support from their parent(s), no access to Centrelink and were unemployed. Most of the fines were incurred on the way to and from school, as well as travelling between different houses where they were sleeping. Being forced to fare evade created conflict with Authorised Officers and other transport users. The resulting fines also created further conflict in the home, making the couch-surfer's situation worse.

The Schools' Couch-Surfing Myki Project created a new pathway of compliance for young couch-surfers who do not have access to income and rely on public transport to get to and from school. With funding support from Wyndham City Council and delivered in partnership with four local Wyndham schools, the project provided Myki cards to 40-50 eligible students for one month at no cost to the student.

The provision of the free Myki card through the school's wellbeing tream provided a safe way for young people participating in the project to get to and from school, as well as access services external to the school. Early indicators suggest that a number of young people might not have completed school if not for the project, and that young people were more engaged at school as a result of the project.

As noted by a participating wellbeing officer: "After being linked in with the Myki program the student's confidence in catching public transport increased, attendance increased, and overall reported mental health increased due to the support".

WEstjustice is now seeking further funding to extend the Schools' Couch-Surfing Myki Project to 20-25 schools in the Wyndham catchment area.

A final report on the project will be released shortly. For further information please contact Melissa Hardham at melissah@westjustice.org.au.

 

 

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