Youth Homelessness in Crisis

Samaritans CEO

Each night in Australia, around 26,000 young people are sleeping rough. It’s such a challenge to track the number of young people who are homeless but we know that locally, in the last year, there has been a rise in the number of young people sleeping on the streets. These are just the people we know about with plenty who couch surf with friends or sleep in cars. It’s the numbers and the stories that demonstrate that something must be done to address this invisible crisis.

Three million people already live below the poverty line in Australia, of whom 731,000 are children. This is simply unacceptable. Youth homelessness and poverty is a growing issue and not enough is being done to address the problem.

Samaritans provides a number of services to support young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Each one of our Specialist Homelessness Services is at capacity, with growing waiting lists and multiple phone calls being received each day from case workers desperately seeking a bed for a young person in need.

In the 2016/17 financial year, Samaritans supported over 1000 homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 24 years. This is more than 400 additional people than the previous financial year and yet, there are not necessarily more beds in which to accommodate the young people.

There are a number of issues impacting on the homelessness cycle that we know are influencing the steep increase in numbers of young people sleeping rough. Issues such as; after care support for children leaving foster care; the lack of affordable housing in our community; and the impacts of domestic and family violence, which research tells us is the largest single cause of homelessness. These issues need to be urgently prioritised by the government.

Australia has one of the most onerous and compliance-heavy social security systems in the OECD, which creates huge challenges for people who are struggling to make ends meet- particularly our youth. Our country is also known to have some of the lowest support payments in the developed world, specifically the youth allowance. This results in people being trapped in a cycle of poverty and endlessly searching for jobs that aren’t there.

The Government has recognised the lack of employment opportunities and barriers to work for young people with the introduction of the Youth PaTH program. Even if PaTH achieves its targets, the 30,000 positions are nowhere near the number of young jobseekers looking to engage with their local community through employment. While youth unemployment remains an issue with little commitment to boosting entry level jobs, so too will youth homelessness.

Samaritans, and many other not for profits, are taking active steps to tackle youth homelessness. Holistic, wrap-around services are working to support young people in our community to navigate through tough times and ultimately ensure they have a safe place to sleep for the long term.

Samaritans Student Accommodation is one such service which aims to act as a stepping stone for young people into education, vocational training, good health, secure employment and social inclusion. This project offers young people supported accommodation, education and employment opportunities. The program is demonstrating that with the right support and networks, young people who have experienced crisis can go on to achieve great things. Since its establishment in 2013, the program has seen many young people complete their education, including university qualifications and maintain private rentals once leaving Samaritans Accommodation. We must commit to the provision of such services and continue to increase supply to address demand. Of course this requires financial backing and government commitment.

We should take pride in maintaining and strengthening our social safety net for everyone when they need it, especially our youth. Understanding and investing in young people results in benefits for all – the result is a more productive, collaborative and supportive community. By providing relevant opportunities for youth to engage, we can better understand and address the challenges that they face, and in turn keep more young people safe.