A 19-year-old student living under a bridge while studying for university entrance exams is preparing to move into a house for the first time in three years, after a powerful story by The Age highlighted her plight.
The student, who The Age chose to name Alicia, has been studying year 11 at RMIT University and was preparing for her exams during the day while at night she read by lamplight inside a tent under a small bridge.
Journalist Aisha Dow reported that Alicia and her boyfriend have breakfast each morning at a drop-in centre in North Melbourne before she walked to school.
Ms Dow was told of the situation by the chair of Youth Projects, a charity which provides assistance to disadvantaged young people. She and a photographer visited Alicia and the resulting front-page story drew an instant response.
“Some of [the people who emailed me] were just wanting to know how to donate a bit of money,” Ms Dow said. “Others said they might have a spare room that she could stay in.”
“We also got contacted by a few lawyers, because Alicia says she wants to be a criminologist. People really seemed to connect with the fact that this was a young woman that had ambitions.”
Alicia is now preparing to move into a house thanks to the flood of support, Ms Dow said, which will be a challenge in itself given she has slept rough for three years.
The response to the story spawned another story, with Youth Projects receiving hundreds of offers of help and there had been an anonymous donation to the charity of $10,000.
“We ended up having most of the senior management team diverted into taking phone calls and answering emails,” Youth Projects chair Melanie Raymond said.
“The CEO’s inbox was full.”
Ultimately, around $20,000 was raised for Youth Projects, of which Alicia is a client. However, a week later came the biggest win – Alicia was guaranteed a place in criminology at La Trobe University if she could complete her Victorian Certificate of Education exams.
“People in senior positions have obviously seen something in Alicia and are inspired by her story and that’s really great,” Ms Dow said.
Alicia’s story isn’t the only instance of Ms Dow’s reporting bringing results.
A few years ago at The Border Mail she covered a story about a homeless couple living in their car with a baby imminent. “The community managed to get her a house and furnish it,” Ms Dow said.
“So I’ve seen how people could respond to a story of someone in need before.”
Youth Projects chair Ms Raymond said seeking exposure for Alicia’s story was about advocacy, not fundraising, and that she didn’t anticipate the impact of The Age’s story.
“It was the beauty of this kind of media that the public can respond and all of the money goes directly to the charity, even though it wasn’t what we were trying to do,” she said.
“I think people trust The Age and the credibility that comes with being in a newspaper like that.”