Escape to the street

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Escape to the street

More young people are living on the street in cities and towns across the West. In Australia, over 40 per cent of the homeless are under 25. Catherine Yeomans of Mission Australia says that doing something as early as possible is the answer to the problem.

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'I have no excuse': a young homeless girl. © Flickr user D.C.Atty

Jemma left home when she was 14.

She felt unsafe for years in a violent home in rural Australia. Once her brother tried to stab her with a knife. She had a difficult relationship with her father. Jemma’s mother was depressed and so Jemma looked after her baby sister and went to school.

‘It was too much. One day I left for school and didn’t come back,’ Jemma says.

Then she was one of more than 40,000 homeless young people in Australia.

Jemma felt that leaving her family home was the best thing for her. She stayed with friends as long as it was possible. Without a home it was more and more difficult at school.

‘I hated home but school was just as bad. I had no friends and no one listened.’

Finally, Jemma found emotional support and a safe place to live in a youth crisis centre. Mission Australia ran the service and helped her find accommodation. They helped her with everyday living and with going to school and having a part-time job. Without the help Jemma says she would have left school and worked at a fast food restaurant.

Jemma was lucky. She found a youth crisis centre near her home. Many young Australians aren’t so lucky. There are not enough beds, social workers or safe places to help young homeless people. Of about105,000 homeless people in Australia 44,000 are under age 25. The services cannot help 40 per cent of young people who need help with housing.

Rich and poor

In 2016 Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth were the best cities to live in. But after 25 years of a strong economy, the country is not looking after the most vulnerable of the young. The OECD says 13 per cent of Australia’s children are poor. According to the Australian Council of Social Services, one in six children are poor – 700,000 children under age.

Indigenous young people

Indigenous young people are not so lucky:

• Less than 3 per cent of Australians are indigenous. But indigenous people are 14 times more likely to be homeless than non-indigenous people

• Indigenous Australians are 35 times more likely to live in overcrowded houses. This is worse in rural and remote areas. For children this can lead to poor health, domestic violence and broken education

• Over half of the Aboriginal people who need homelessness services are under 25. Nearly 1 in 4 are under 10

According to the recent Child and Youth Homelessness Report, one in seven Australians aged 15-19 are at risk of homelessness. When life at home is not safe, these young people choose to leave. A quarter of them said they left home more than 10 times in three years.

There are difficult problems for vulnerable young people: domestic violence, mental health problems, addiction to drugs, broken families, poverty, and being away from school. Homeless young people often drop out, lose the support of friends, and are more likely to be mentally ill. On the streets it is unsafe and dangerous.

Staying with many different friends can lead to long term homelessness. Some young people feel they are part of the homeless subculture and accept it as a way of life.

Expensive houses make the problem of homelessness in Australia worse. Australia has the third most expensive housing in the world. For many years government has not put money into social housing. Very expensive rents are too high for poor families and young people and this leads them to homelessness.

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Sleeping on a park bench. When young people feel stressed or in danger the street can seem the safest place. Mission Australia

Stopping homelessness

So what do we need to do? We think we can halve youth homelessness by 2020 with the right policy and help from the community.

We need to take action early and quickly to stop homelessness.

‘Reconnect’ is one programme in Australia. It works to bring families together where possible. The programme also helps to find housing and gives job training and involves young people in the community. But the problem for Reconnect is government cuts.

Charcoal Lane, Mission Australia’s restaurant in Melbourne, is another idea. The restaurant serves good food with local ingredients and gives jobs to young Aboriginal people who may be at risk of homelessness. They get qualifications and experience in a helpful environment. After working at Charcoal Lane young people are ready to find a job.

Stephen is now in his early 30s. Stephen had a very difficult childhood. There was violence in his family. He often moved house and was in foster care for much of his young life. When he was a teenager, he took drugs and was at risk of homelessness. After a heart attack he went to Charcoal Lane.

‘I felt unhappy because I was moving so much,’ Stephen says. ‘The programme made a big difference. I was learning to work in a busy kitchen, and it gave me a sense of community.’

We need help from government at all levels to help this problem or Australia will be the unlucky country for the thousands of children and young people without a safe place to call home.

Catherine Yeomans is the CEO of Mission Australia, one of the country’s largest social agencies. She lives in Sydney.

FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE AND REFERENCES:https://newint.org/features/2017/06/01/escape-to-the-street/

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).