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Housing Forum

8 December 2017

Salvation Army staff Tatiana Croft and Trish Kelly* spoke at a Frankston-Mornington Peninsula youth homelessness summit convened on 21 November at the Frankston Football Club (Vic.).

Youth Homelessness Summit
Youth Homelessness Summit illustration

The summit attracted more than 100 social workers from the region, engaged in tackling possible solutions to the crisis that sees hundreds of young people from the Frankston Mornington Peninsula (FMP) region requiring homelessness support each year, and being forced to move away from their support networks to try to access help.**

Housing insecurity and homelessness is endemic in the region, and guest speaker Professor Guy Johnson suggested that as a nation ‘We’ve lost our way… the level of interest in solving youth homelessness is a lot lower than in the 1980s [following the Burdekin Report***].’

Noting the debates and history of the methodologies of counting homeless people****, the professor stressed the need for early intervention, as most children become homeless while they are at school, and a large percentage of young homeless people ‘graduate’ into the adult homelessness population, as they consequently and subsequently lack the educational and support bases to gain employment and establish themselves as members of the mainstream communities.

‘Focusing on inner city rough sleepers, rather than young homeless people,’ the professor added, ‘saves money and ignores three things: the chronically homeless comprise from 10-20% of the homelessness population; half of the chronically homeless rough sleepers start this journey as young people under the age of 18; and this focus on rough sleepers contributes to the erroneous idea that homelessness is largely an inner-city problem.

‘Youth homelessness is not an inner-city problem; services need to be located in communities where the problems first emerge. Homeless youth experience disruption to their education, which impacts their employability –without regional resources, kids transition to the adult homelessness population.’

People who first experience homelessness as youths are four times more likely to develop mental health problems and six times more likely to develop substance abuse problems.

The professor noted that only increasing crisis accommodation – without the addition of exit strategies and exit point resources to move people into more long-term housing solutions – runs the risk of perpetuating homelessness.

 A young single parent was interviewed about her experiences, including the weight of judgment she had been subjected to, and the shame and stress she had laboured under in trying to protect and nurture her children.

‘I was always looked at like I was nothing,’ she said. I wanted to be seen as a person; I wanted to get out of my life.

‘Homelessness is choosing the least worst option,’ she explained. ‘You can literally save someone’s life by helping them and supporting them in getting housing, and in listening to their story.’

Thankfully, with The Salvation Army’s help, the young woman was able to share how she was about to graduate high school, was working as a permanent part-time child educator, had established savings and gained permanent housing where her children had their own rooms and the peace of mind of knowing they were not going to be kicked out.

Ms Croft, noting the limited capacity to make referrals to over-taxed crisis accommodation,  said that ‘young people, in particular, are often stigmatised and marginalised… it is imperative that we start to ensure young people have a safe, stable place to live and love.

‘Barriers to crisis accommodation are significant, which leaves us with limited access to youth refuges, and the nearest one to us is in Dandenong…no refuge will accept couples or young people with kids… most young people are terrified of leaving their communities, yet while they want to stay near their families or their friends, that is not going to happen without stable accommodation.

‘That means our most vulnerable young people are faced with the choice of having a safe place to live or staying in education or employment. Yes, we need exit points from crisis accommodation, but, yes, we also desperately need crisis accommodation. We need that “first aid”.’

Ms Kelly spoke of the extremely limited resources available for allocation at T21 (only three single bedroom units and two family units, with one staff sleepover unit), and noted that voluntary clients can stay for up to two years and statutory clients can stay for 12 months ‘or until they are off their [court mandated\] order.’

Those present broke up into group work to discuss the realities of Family and Domestic Violence, family breakdowns, poverty-induced weak or non-existent family support, unemployment, unstable housing, sexual abuse, mental illness and substance abuse, family conflict, marginalisation and stigmatisation, etc.

Youth Homelessness Forum artistThe desire to provide more adequate assistance was palpable. Funding solutions to provide such, and to facilitate innovative and more extensive practice remain elusive.

* Tatiana and Trish are respectively the coordinators of The Salvation Army SalvoCare Eastern’s transitional support program and the transition to independent centre (T21).
** There is no local crisis accommodation for young people in the region and only 13 transitional beds available, with long waiting lists.
*** https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/childrens-rights/publications/our-homeless-children
**** The ABS’ change of methodology saw the retrospective alteration of homelessness populations, resulting in an altering of the youth homelessness population from 27% of the entire homelessness cohort to 10%, with the number of homeless youth recorded in statistics being downgraded from 26,000 to 8,500 young people.