In light of Youth Week (and Youth Homelessness Matters Day, which was held yesterday), a group of youth homelessness advocates and the non-profit arm of the Virgin Group – Virgin Unite – have launch a national campaign to end youth homelessness in Australia. I thought it would be a good time to bring a face to the issue that we’ve all been hearing about lately.
Canberra is especially important in ending youth homelessness (1) because any Canberrans can run into the politicians while grabbing a carton of milk- so it’s good to know what’s going on (2) on any given night in Canberra over 800 people aged 12-25 are homeless.
Youth homelessness isn’t what we think of when we try to imagine homelessness (admit it- the old man on the bench image.) Instead, they are normally unrecognizable from any other youth walking on the footpath or heading to school. Most youth become homeless because of family breakdown, aging out of foster care or the juvenile justice system.
Yet these youth don’t hit to the streets first- like good Australians, they are resourceful and stay on the couches of friends or family. If that doesn’t work they move to the couches of friends of friends or family of family, creating an unsafe, unstable cycle of accommodation. This is also why many advocates these days have been claiming that most of youth homelessness is ‘invisible’- these youth aren’t on the street; they’re on someone’s couch.
Those who can’t find a couch normally turn to youth refuges, of which ACT has the highest turn-away rate in the country, with about 95% of youth being turned away due to lack of accommodation. It isn’t until they’ve exhausted all options that they sleep on the street, or ‘rough’ as us in the business like to call it. And even then they look for secluded places where they can’t be seen.
While the issue has been getting ever more attention from government- and recently, the mega might of the Virgin Group, it is the community that has to push this issue into something of the past.
The Virgin Group’s non-profit arm, Virgin Unite has launched a national campaign, in partnership with several youth homelessness bodies (Yfoundations, NYCH, Oasis and others) to get the everyday community involved in creating a future without youth homelessness. They’ve set up an online petition ready for signatures at www.endyouthhomelessness.com.au and are holding a story competition for youth to tell about their experience of homelessness.
One of the most recent stories is from Nathan who describes what being homeless means to him:
“To me, being homeless means being mobile. You don’t have the choice of storing your clothes and possessions in a wardrobe, everything you own must be carried on your person. Living on the streets gave me a paradigm shift in how I value material possessions. Your value system completely shifts, rather than deciding what you’re going to watch on the telly tonight, you try and figure out where you’ll be sleeping, or where you’ll get your next meal from. […]I hope I never have to do it again; neither should anyone else have to go through that, especially young people.”
So I urge all Canberrans not only to strike up a convo with Gillard at the Milk Bar- but put your name on something great (and quick) by signing the online petition and posting it to your networks.
I mean after all—community advocacy is all the rage right now isn’t it?
**The statistics in this article we’re taken from the Youth Coalition of the ACT’s November 2010 Policy Platform on Housing and Homelessness and Nathan’s full story can be viewed at the campaign’s website.
This post was written by Grace Stubee, Research and Sector Development Officer at Yfoundations, the NSW youth peak that works to create a future without youth homelessness.