Opinion | Youth homelessness an invisible crisis

Tonight, it is anticipated that 26,000 young people will sleep rough. These 26,000 young people will struggle with knowing when they might eat their next meal, whether or not they’ll have a bed to sleep in, whether they’ll face danger or trauma from life on the street. This week is Homelessness Prevention Week and I’m calling on all in our community to help bring awareness to this crisis.

Homelessness is a complex issue that is a reality for too many young Australians. We don’t often notice the young person sleeping in their car or couch-surfing at a friend’s house. Rarely do we see what it’s like to spend the night in a refuge. Youth homelessness is an invisible crisis.

Samaritans is calling on the government to address core issues impacting on the homelessness cycle. 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 is the largest single cause of homelessness.

We need to increase access to education, vocational training and health care. We need to ensure adequate early intervention services are available, that we increase the provision of subsidised housing and increase the supply of affordable housing. We must insist that the government commits to the provision of ongoing support to people who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness. Without addressing such issues and without government support, we can never truly end homelessness.

The current rental affordability struggle, coupled with low youth allowance payments and a lack of job opportunities for young people creates dangerous outcomes for vulnerable young people, many of whom are escaping family violence.  

Domestic violence has reached epidemic levels in Australia, with one in four children growing up in families experiencing situations of domestic violence. Family breakdown resulting from incidents of domestic violence not only damages children; it also adds pressure to the housing market and from experience we know that it leaves people in distress and facing homelessness.

Young people find their way to agencies like Samaritans through a number of pathways including self-referral, or referrals from concerned teachers, counsellors, health care workers or the police. While family reconnection is always the number one priority for case workers, we know that this is increasingly difficult and unsafe.

Samaritans is taking active steps to tackle youth homelessness, but with your help we can achieve a lot more.  We can bring visibility and hope to the 26,000 young Australians with nowhere to call home. 

With your help, we can continue to provide holistic, wrap-around services to support young people in our community to navigate through tough times and achieve their dreams.

At Samaritans we hope that our services are the stepping stone for young people into education, vocational training, good health, secure employment and social inclusion, but we can’t achieve this alone.

We are calling on you, our community, to dig deep and give what you can to our Winter Appeal to address this invisible crisis.  Perhaps you may not be able to give financially but everyone can do their bit to bring light to this issue by speaking out about youth homelessness, especially this National Homelessness Prevention Week.

Peter Gardiner is the CEO of the Newcastle-based Samaritans Foundation.

UNITED APPROACH: Issues such as the lack of affordable housing and domestic and family violence need to be addressed to break the cycle of homelessness.

UNITED APPROACH: Issues such as the lack of affordable housing and domestic and family violence need to be addressed to break the cycle of homelessness.

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