In this prosperous city, it’s sobering to realise that there is a real issue with increasing numbers of children having to take care of themselves at a very young age. While some end up on the street, most often they are in limbo floating from one couch to another.
They are a growing part of the capital’s invisible homeless population, undercounted in statistics, taking refuge in places they consider safer than their homes.
As a community, we have a collective responsibility to protect our children.
The most recent round of grant applications sought under the Chief Minister’s Charitable Fund were incredibly illuminating. We heard about all sorts of need in the community. In total, 29 projects were funded and more than $400,000 in grants dispersed.
It’s accepted that homelessness has long-term impacts on young people, exposing them to a number of risks including mental health issues, drug and physical abuse, and sexual exploitation. Young people experiencing homelessness are also more likely to interact with the criminal justice system.
The National Resource Centre for Domestic Violence defines homeless youth as typically unaccompanied youth aged 12 and older (up to age 17, 21, or 24) who are without family support, and are living in shelters, on the streets, in cars or vacant buildings, are ‘couch surfing’ or living in other unstable circumstances.
In the ACT, statistics tell us that young people are disproportionately affected by homelessness: one-in-six young people have experienced homelessness and of those seeking assistance in the ACT between 2016-2017 nearly 30 per cent were children (Vital Signs 2018 Report).
Recently, the ACT government announced a commitment of $480,000 over the next year to tackle youth homelessness together with the Youth Coalition ACT and other services. While this is a start, it is nowhere near enough to tackle youth homelessness.
Government, service providers, philanthropy (community foundations and philanthropic businesses and individuals) and youth who have experienced homelessness need to work together on a coordinated plan to tackle youth homelessness.
No one will be able to do it on their own. Our combined talents and resources could leverage efforts to try to prevent our young people from becoming homeless in the first place and, if they do become homeless, ensuring they are adequately housed and offered support as needed.
It will allow us to innovate, be efficient and tackle the root of the cause. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, young people have all sorts of different experiences so we need to work together, across sectors, intervene early and target services toward the particular needs of young people.
I urge everyone from business to individuals in this great city to come together and lend their treasure, time or talent to help end youth homelessness.
The Youth Coalition has put together an Action Plan that pulls together the range of services and supports needed to address child/youth homelessness. If you are interested in getting involved, let Hands Across Canberra know and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Gordon is the CEO of Hands Across Canberra.