250 properties for young homeless people

3 min read

The blown-out cost of housing in Australian cities can make life tough - for anyone on an average income. So picture this. You’re 15. You can’t live at home anymore for reasons you don’t even want to talk about. You’ve just dropped out of school. You’ve never had a job.

Your chances of nabbing a lease are looking narrower than a London alleyway, right? And even if you find one, best of luck with keeping up with the rent.

A budding entrepreneur from Adelaide by the name of Helen van der Giessen plans to change all this. “When I was 15, I could no longer continue living at home,” she says. “I was lucky enough to access supported accommodation and then community housing, but a lot of young people don’t have those opportunities.”

These days, Helen is in the thick of finishing a law degree. And, since October 2014, she’s been a student at the BT Social Entrepreneur Incubator, run through the School for Social Entrepreneurs. When the program ends in June 2015, she’ll be firing up to kickstart her new enterprise, Yolo Housing. “It’s a proposed property developer, to be used as a vehicle to create and manage a portfolio of rental properties for young people on very low incomes – mainly for those exiting homelessness or supported accommodation,” she says.

Helen came knocking at the Incubator’s door with this cracking idea, but wasn’t so sure about the ins and outs of setting it up, business-wise. That’s where her mentor, David Hunt, an operations manager at BT, stepped in. “I have a background in project management and strategy consulting. So I’ve been able to help Helen refine her idea, structure her business plan, work out how she’s going to implement it and make decisions about how she’s going to track and monitor progress,” he explains.

Helen says she’s benefited from David’s “strategic thinking”. “I’ve learnt how to apply financial management and I’ve been exposed to strategies for building relationships and raising capital, as in who to talk to, what to do and what not to do when it comes to attracting social investment.”

In between mentoring sessions, there are opportunities to hook up with other emerging entrepreneurs. “It’s been fantastic, seeing people coming up with ideas and dreams and putting one foot in front of another to make them happen – to see the process live. It’s also inspiring, being around fellow students who can buoy you when self-doubt creeps in and motivate you to keeping moving forward. I’ve really come to value myself and my ability to drive my project into reality.”

Helen envisions that, in ten years’ time, Yolo will count 250 properties in its portfolio. “They’ll offer independent leases, which the tenants will have control of,” she explains. “As long as they pay their rent, at a price they can afford, there’ll be no strings attached. I know I can’t necessarily fix homelessness, but I can help a whole bunch of people have a solid foundation to work towards their future from.” 

Been thinking about your own social entrepreneurial start-up? Read more about the BT Social Entrepreneur Incubator.


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This information is current as at 15/06/2015.