One in six young people in the ACT have been homeless to some degree, with the experience taking toll of their mental health and wellbeing, and ability to study or find work, according to a new report from Mission Australia.
The Young People’s Experiences of Homelessness report says 16.6 per cent of ACT young people who had responded to Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2017 had experienced homelessness, slightly higher than the national figure of 15.6 per cent.
Homelessness included living in refuges, transitional accommodation and/or having spent time couch surfing.
More than one in 10 (11.1 per cent) of the 673 ACT respondents reported couch surfing. Additionally, nearly one in 10 (9.7 per cent) said they had spent time without a fixed address such as in a refuge or transitional accommodation, with more than one in 10 (10.9%) having done so without a family member present.
The survey highlighted key differences among young people who had and hadn’t experienced homelessness with 70 per cent perceiving barriers to achieving study or work goals compared with 42 per cent, and 44 per cent concerned about family conflict and depression compared with 15 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.
Forty-eight per cent believed they met criteria for probable serious mental illness compared with 19 per cent of those who hadn’t experienced homelessness and 10 per cent felt they had no control over their life as opposed to just 2 per cent.
Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said the report was important because it not only gave an insight into the scale of youth homelessness in Australia but also a better understanding of who these young people were and how they were impacted by homelessness.
“It allows us to understand how their experiences differ from those young people who haven’t experienced homelessness, such as experiencing low self-esteem and happiness, and gives us some clues as to what supports are most needed,” he said.
The report calls for a national homelessness strategy and investment in prevention, early intervention and outreach.
It says young people who experience homelessness should be rapidly rehoused and supported to maintain that housing.
It wants more investment in social and affordable housing that is appropriate and available for young people, increased Youth Allowance and Commonwealth Rent Assistance payments and sustainable funding to increase housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and address overcrowding.
Mission Australia also says that there should be better planning when young people leave state care.
Mr Toomey said that doing nothing risked creating a generation of young people who carried the mental and physical scars of homelessness into their adult lives.
“We know that too many young people in Australia don’t know where they’re going to sleep from night to night which means it’s much harder to think about what they want to do in the future,” he said.
“Who miss schooling because of having to move from one temporary, inadequate dwelling to another. Who may be experiencing mental illness and living in family conflict situations without any sense of sanctuary and safety. Who are hoping to secure a job, but losing hope about their future as they see the barriers mounting without a sense of control over their own lives.
“For many years, the community sector has put forward evidence-based solutions to end youth homelessness, but sadly we see from the recent census that numbers are still growing. This is just not acceptable and we urgently call on all governments to make this a priority.”
Mission Australia is participating in Everybody’s Home, which calls for a commitment to end homelessness by 2030.