Dealing with the trauma of youth homelessness
3 June 2019 at 4:36 pm
The lowest point was when the police officer came to the door. Jessica* was already at breaking point, and now the police were handing her a warrant giving her family two days to leave their home.
Jessica’s mum had fallen behind in rent payments because of issues with her disability pension, and the family soon found themselves facing a notice to vacate in June 2017.
This kicked off a year-long legal battle with their landlord as the family fought in court to stay in their home.
For Jessica, who is now 21, the situation was traumatic.
“Life was hectic,” Jessica told Pro Bono News.
“I was completing my university studies at that time and getting just passable grades. My two sisters were going through hell for the simple fact that their oldest sister and mother were stressing out to the point that we would constantly argue.
“It was just a very stress-induced, anxiety-ridden time that affected our mental state as well as our physical state.”
During this time, Jessica was able to find support through Frontyard Youth Services, a Melbourne City Mission (MCM) support program for young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
On Thursday, Frontyard opened its redeveloped 24/7 crisis accommodation centre in the Melbourne CBD.
The $9 million four-storey centre – funded by contributions from across the government, business and philanthropy sectors – combines accommodation with services for mental health, drug and alcohol, disability, health, family violence, legal needs and counselling.
MCM CEO Vicki Sutton said the new Frontyard model was specifically created to help deal with the trauma caused by youth homelessness, which has increased 13.7 per cent in the last five years.
“This model is particularly targeted to a group of young people who, due to their tragic life circumstances, experience severe and multiple disadvantage such as mental illness, trauma, disabilities and substance abuse,” Sutton said.
Proud to help launch a $9 million redevelopment of #Frontyard Youth Services today with @rwynnemp and @VickiASutton. The 24/7 facility features extensive support services, even a therapy dog called Alfred. #MCM #Frontyard #MelboureCityMission pic.twitter.com/bGwHbI8QcV
— Lord Mayor Melbourne (@LordMayorMelb) May 30, 2019
Jessica said Frontyard was the only place able to support her needs, after a lot of services in her area turned her away because her situation was deemed not “dire” enough.
A few years before the police came knocking at her door, Jessica was living a relatively comfortable middle-class existence. The last thing she expected was to find herself at risk of homelessness.
This changed in year 10 when her family lost their home, forcing Jessica to move from place to place throughout VCE.
She turned to Frontyard when she was 18, using the service’s music therapy and art therapy for support during a stressful period when her mum was looking for a home after becoming a single parent.
Jessica helped out any way she could, looking after her sisters while her mum searched for a place to live and paid the bills.
She said she liked the way Frontyard helped people in similar situations to hers.
“They didn’t turn me away just because I wasn’t actually sleeping rough,” she said.
“They recognised I was still at risk of homelessness and did everything they could to help me. Even though my situation wasn’t as bad as some other people’s.
“They always tackle the inbuilt trauma for people who may have slept rough or come out of the care system. I think it’s a very holistic way to approach the issue of homelessness.”
Sutton told Pro Bono News that Jessica’s experience showed it was important to view homelessness as a much more complex issue than simply older people sleeping rough.
She noted half of all people experiencing homelessness were escaping violence in their homes, while more than a third of people MCM support have mental health issues and 20 per cent come from the state care system.
“I have a 17-year-old son. He has a broad network of family community support if things go wrong but there are young people without those networks,” she said.
Jessica’s family was eventually able to win the legal battle that threatened to leave them homeless, and Jessica said her living situation was now “somewhat stable”.
But she admitted the entire ordeal has left her wary of what’s to come.
“I’m hopeful for the future but because of everything that’s happened to us, I’m not going to bank on it,” she said.
“It’s a very pessimistic view to have but I have to be on my guard now.”
*Not her real name.