The Shopfront Youth Legal Centre is supported by the Foundation to provide not only free legal representation to homeless young people but also support services to empower them.
The Shopfront Youth Legal Centre is a free legal service for homeless and disadvantaged young people. It is a joint project of Freehills, Mission Australia and The Salvation Army. The centre was established in February 1993 by Freehills and Mission Australia. Over the years The Shopfront has assisted almost 5,000 young people with over 9,000 legal matters.
The Shopfront started out with one solicitor and one secretary (both seconded from Freehills) in a small Darlinghurst shopfront. The Salvation Army joined the partnership in 1997, enabling the Shopfront to move to its current premises in Darlinghurst. Since then The Shopfront has grown to a team of eight staff (four solicitors, three legal assistants and a social worker) and several volunteers.
The Shopfront’s clients range in age from about 12–25 years. Most are homeless and are not easily able to access Legal Aid and other mainstream legal services.
For the young people it works with, homelessness is usually the result of abuse, neglect, or family dysfunction. Most of the clients are affected by mental illness, intellectual disability, or substance abuse problems. The clients come from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds and mainly (but not exclusively) from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
The Shopfront has a strong focus on criminal law and court-based advocacy. It also assists clients with outstanding fines, victims compensation applications, and provides advice and referrals on family law, care & protection and civil matters. It strives to provide clients with continuity of legal representation and with support in addressing their non-legal needs which are often inextricably linked with their legal problems.
In addition, The Shopfront provides legal education to young people and to those who work with them, through training workshops and written resources. It has a series of legal factsheets which can be downloaded from their website.
The Shopfront is also involved in systemic advocacy, aimed at achieving law and policy reform on issues affecting young and disadvantaged people. Some of the submissions have had a significant influence on the recommendations made by the body conducting the inquiry or review. Solicitors from The Shopfront are also involved in committees and networks that seek to advance the interests of young people, particularly where the criminal justice system is concerned.