'This will get worse': Fears for the wellbeing of young people facing homelessness
29 July 2020 at 11:56 am
A new report shows one in six young people in Australia have experienced homelessness
The federal government is being urged to take a proactive response to tackling youth homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, amid fears vulnerable young people will struggle without increased support.
Mission Australia is calling for the Commonwealth to develop a national homelessness strategy in conjunction with the states and territories, with a special focus on youth homelessness.
It comes on the back of newly released findings from the charity’s youth survey, which revealed one in six (17.1 per cent) young people aged 15 to 19 have experienced homelessness.
While this is only a slight rise from the 2018 youth survey homelessness figures (15.6 per cent), the latest data was collected pre-pandemic.
Mission Australia CEO James Toomey told Pro Bono News it was already apparent the issue was getting worse during the crisis, which meant proactive action was needed.
“Our teams on the ground told us that during the first set of restrictions in March young people were presenting at our services in need of housing, for reasons such as not being able to couch surf any more or losing their job,” Toomey said.
“We don’t need to wait for this problem to get worse before we have a homelessness strategy. We can tell that, particularly in relation to youth homelessness, this will get worse in the next few months and the intermediate period.”
Mission Australia’s youth survey results showed that young people who have faced homelessness were more than twice as likely to experience bullying (39.7 per cent vs 16.7 per cent) and report psychological distress (51.7 per cent vs 21.1 per cent).
Young people experiencing homelessness were also almost four times as likely than their peers to feel sad/very sad with their life (27.2 per cent vs 7.2 per cent).
Toomey said these findings not only shone a light on the magnitude of youth homelessness in Australia, but also offered a clearer understanding of how the experience of homelessness hurts the wellbeing of vulnerable young people.
“Through our Youth Survey 2019, young people who have been homeless told us they’re facing a great deal of stress and mental health concerns,” he said.
“They’re experiencing dangerous levels of bullying, lower levels of happiness, and they’re facing seemingly insurmountable barriers as they move into their adult lives.
“This cannot be accepted as just the way things are. We can and must take action to make real and lasting change and commit to ending youth homelessness in our country.”
Calls for a national homelessness strategy are not new. The Everybody’s Home campaign urged people to write to Assistant Homelessness Minister Luke Howarth during Homelessness Week last year demanding work begin on a plan by the end of 2019. This did not eventuate.
The Australian Alliance to End Homelessness also this week called for a national strategy – which they dubbed a “HomeSeeker Package” – to help end rough sleeping homelessness.
Howarth did not comment on if the government would consider a national homelessness strategy when asked by Pro Bono News this week, but said young people were a priority cohort under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with state and territory governments.
He said the federal government was working in partnership with the states and territories, and would “continue to monitor the situation and respond to conditions as they present themselves”.
“Homelessness can exist even when someone has a roof over their head,” Howarth said.
“I am discussing the unique circumstances of each jurisdiction and working with housing and homelessness ministers to improve outcomes for vulnerable Australians rough sleeping or experiencing homelessness in boarding houses, supported accommodation for the homeless and couch surfing.”
As well as a national homelessness strategy, the report also recommends investing in flexible learning models and youth specific employment programs for those experiencing homelessness, a strengthening of social security payments to ensure people have enough to get by, and an integration of housing and mental health supports for young people.
Toomey said decisive action on the issue would benefit Australian society as a whole.
“The lifelong impacts on young people of experiencing homelessness is very significant,” he said.
“If it’s possible to intervene now to develop practices or policy settings which make it less likely that young people are going to experience homelessness, then that will not only benefit them but provide economic benefit to Australia as well.”