YOUTH Off The Streets founder and chief executive officer Salesian Father Chris Riley had his controversial $630,000 government debt wiped clean during a meeting with Education Minister Dan Tehan yesterday.
The debt – which resulted from an unannounced change to federal government funding – had been used to finance the operation of six schools run by the charity.
The Education Department had informed Fr Riley of the financial penalty via email, telling him a new government funding formula for homeless and disadvantaged children would mean that total funding per student would be reduced from $17,000 per student to $8000.
Under the new formula, Youth off the Streets would lose $1.3m in funding per year.
Fr Riley said the cuts were made in the “stealth of the night”, and that no rationale had been provided for the decision.
“They came up with a different funding model without any discussion or referring to us at all,” Fr Riley said.
“We just got an email saying you’re going to get $8000 per student.”
Although Mr Tehan revoked the decision to recuperate the large sum of money, he did not guarantee any funding resolution beyond 2019.
The practical implications of the cuts would be vast on Youth Off The Streets and could place disadvantaged children at further risk.
Since opening in 1991, Youth Off The Streets has grown from a single food van delivering meals to young homeless people on the streets, to an organisation that provides 35 services including Aboriginal programs, crisis accommodation, alcohol and other drug services, counselling, and accredited high schools.
Fr Riley said he was “amazed” at the response, which included a campaign from radio personalities Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.
If the funding cuts went ahead, two proposed new schools – one in the Hunter and one in Logan, Queensland – would not open.
“These students aren’t accessing government schools, they are accessing his independent schools,” Fr Riley said.
“Our kids have no voice, they don’t have parents to scream and yell … me and my staff are the ones who have to scream and yell.
“We do keep opening new schools on a regular basis – because we are in need – and we will discuss that with the minister.”