Supporting homeless youth
How do young people become homeless? Where can they get help?
How would you finish this sentence?
A person is homeless if they …
a) Live on the street
b) Sleep on a friend’s couch
c) Live in a boarding house
d) All of the above
If you answered ‘D’, you’re right! It might be surprising to learn that being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping on the street. That's why it's called homelessness not rooflessness! The meaning of homelessness draws on the Anglo-American and European meaning of ‘home’. This includes things like security, stability, privacy, safety and the ability to control living space. Therefore, homelessness is a lack of one or more of these things.
How many people are homeless?
In Australia, it is estimated there are 105,000 people a night who are homeless. About half are young people aged 12 to 24.
In the United States, approximately 630,000 people a night are homeless, including 50,000 young people.
A day in the life of a homeless young person
Young people who are homeless are, in a sense, invisible to us. This is because they’re usually sleeping on the floor or couch of a friend, relative or even a complete stranger. It's what some call “couch surfing”.
Being homeless is unsafe, unhealthy and stressful. The National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Homeless asked young people to describe their experience of homelessness. Some of their responses included:
- feeling cold
- being hungry and not knowing where the next meal will come from
- constantly on the move and not knowing where they will sleep
- unable to shower
- short on clothes
- unable to keep or protect personal possessions
- being sexually assaulted, hurt or threatened
- being ‘moved on’ in public spaces
Why do young people become homeless?
There’s an assumption that homeless young people are runaways that could go home if they really wanted. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. The most common cause of youth homelessness is a breakdown in family relationships, including family violence and parent/adolescent conflict. Moving out of home can be traumatic or relieving – sometimes both.
Other causes are accommodation issues, such as being evicted or unable to find suitable accommodation, and financial reasons like being unable to pay rent.
The road to homelessness
After leaving home, couch surfing is usually the second stage of homelessness.
However, this refuge is usually short-lived due to conflict or the young person outstaying their welcome. To relieve the pressure, some will either move on to the next couch or “sleep rough” on the street for a night or two.
After spending time on couches, or being helped by street services, many will end up permanently living on the street. Sleeping on the street isn’t something you eventually get used to. It's a harsh life, and is linked to a decline in mental health, relationships and overall well-being.
Services for homeless young people
In Australia, if you know someone who’s homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless, here are some government and voluntary organisations that provide advice, financial support, a place to stay and other assistance:
Supported Assistance and Accommodation Program (SAAP)
Provide referral services, telephone information and crisis accommodation.
Organisations Providing Emergency Accommodation
· The Salvation Army
· Melbourne City Mission - Stopover Youth Refuge
· Western Region Accommodation Program
· St Vincent de Paul Society - Housing and Homeless Services
· Crisis Help Network Melbourne Homeless Services - see the section under 'Crisis Accommodation Melbourne and Homeless Accommodation Victoria'
Department of Human Services
Run by the Victorian Government. Provides housing and support.
Centrelink Crisis and Special Help
Payments available for people who are in severe hardship and have been forced to leave home.
Frontyard Youth Support Services
For people aged 15-26. All services are free and you can drop in at their offices (19 King Street, Melbourne) without an appointment.
Light up the street
If you’re a young person in Australia and feel moved by this issue, then you might be interested in the upcoming event Light Up the Street. Anglicare Sydney and Fervr are inviting church youth groups to hold a sleepover on Friday, May 31 2013. It’s a night to learn and pray about the major issues, hear real stories from a DVD and discover how you can be a light in your community. Your youth group can register at lightupthestreet.com.au.
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