The stories behind the young Australians struggling with homelessness
24 March 2020 at 8:13 am
“I was passed around like a hot potato,” 21-year-old Gemma says.
For many university students, the task of juggling study and a part-time job is stressful.
But 21-year-old student Gemma* has had a lot more on her plate than that.
After escaping her abusive mother at the age of 17, Gemma spent a year couch-surfing, before eventually seeking refuge with her grandparents when starting her university degree.
“They also had a past with family violence, and I thought being treated [badly] was okay if I survived and got an education,” Gemma tells Pro Bono News.
“There was one night when I was trying to provide first aid to my grandmother, and my grandfather threw me three metres across the kitchen. I swore to him and to myself that if they ever hurt me again like that, I would call the police.”
About a month later, he punched Gemma in the jaw.
“I called the police and he threw me out that same day. I probably should have expected it, but I didn’t,” she says.
“I was in my second year of my biomedical sciences degree when all this happened, so my grades took a bit of a dip.”
A lack of support
Gemma said that one of the hardest parts of being homeless was the lack of tailored youth support services available.
The service she was put into contact with was the Melbourne family violence support charity, EDVOS, but it did little to help her situation.
“It was very focused on women with children escaping an abusive partner. The only way they could help me was if I went completely undercover and dropped out of university and that just wasn’t really an option for me,” she says.
“I was given phone numbers to call, but that person would give me another number and in the end I just didn’t have the mental capacity to keep that up.
“I was passed around like a hot potato. I was treated like I needed to go away in 12 weeks or less.”
Renewed calls for help
Gemma’s story is one of several that features in a new report from Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic), which launched last week at Victorian Parliament House.
In Victoria alone, there are around 6,000 young people who are homeless on any given night.
In addition to family violence, other major triggers for young people leaving home include relationship breakdowns, alcohol and other drug use, and leaving state care.
Data released last year by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that in Victoria, out of 20,000 young people using homelessness services, 3,600 did not receive permanent accommodation.
The report is calling for a fair private rental market that works for young people, a commitment to an urgent and ongoing program to build enough social housing to end the waiting list, and proper support for young people at risk of experiencing homelessness.
The report, published days before the government announced its latest stimulus package, also calls for an immediate raise to the rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance.
A spokesperson for YACVic told Pro Bono News that with the outbreak of COVID-19, and uncertainty around the timing of state and federal budgets, youth homelessness was an issue that needed to be pushed to the front.
Katherine Ellis, YACVic CEO, says that the solutions to end youth homelessness were already there, meaning what was now needed was serious government investment and action.
“We can and should do everything we can to end youth homelessness in the next 10 years,” Ellis says.
“Thousands more young people will experience homelessness each year until we all begin genuine work on ending youth homelessness.”
On the up, for now
Now in the final year of her degree, Gemma’s life and living situation is looking a little more stable.
“I’ve been living in a sharehouse for the past five months which has been really good, and I recently completed an internship at the CSIRO,” she says.
She is currently receiving Youth Allowance and said the recent boost to the payment has made a big difference.
“For the past four or so months my rent was around 73 per cent of my combined Youth Allowance and rent assistance… it was really hard to afford anything outside of paying rent,” she says.
While she says her situation is looking up, the recent shut-down by the Victorian government of non-essential services in a bid to combat the spread of COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works.
“I only just found casual work, so I’m not really sure what’s going to happen,” she says.
“I’m just trying to stay positive.”
Read the full report here.
If you, or someone you know have experienced domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity