One in seven young people at risk of homelessness

teenage female on the floor in the street homelessUp to one in seven young people could be at risk of homelessness, pointing to the need for more early intervention services to address their issues before they become homeless.

Mission Australia’s Home & Away: Child and Youth Homelessness report used data collected as part of the 2015 Youth Survey to look at a number of factors which may make a young person vulnerable to homelessness, including any time spent away from the family home due to feeling unable to return, family’s ability to get along and frequency of moving residence.

The report surveyed a diverse cross section of young people from all states and territories and from all walks of life, through independent and government schools, online respondents as well as Mission Australia youth services. The report found that of the 19,000 15-19 year olds surveyed, 13.5% or 1 in 7 young people spent time away from home in the last three years because they felt they couldn’t go back.

Of these young people, around 85% spent time away from home on more than one occasion, with around a quarter having spent time away from home more than 10 times. 8% of these young people were away from home for longer than six months.

The results also show that over half (52%) of the young people who had to spend time away from home reported either a poor or fair relationship with their family, compared to 13.8% of those who’d never had to spend time away from home.

Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said, “These results indicate that a disturbing number of our young people are at risk of homelessness. Having to leave the family home because they felt they couldn’t go back – with some young people having to leave on multiple occasions and for months at a time – coupled with a background of poor family relationships means that these young people are very vulnerable to homelessness.

“It is unacceptable in 21st century Australia, there are more than 44,000 children and young people homeless on any given night, and our report shows that the tide is not slowing. Last year we called on the Federal Government to commit to halving youth homelessness by 2020 (hyperlink). This report once again highlights the need for immediate action.

“We know from our experience that the long term prospects for young people who become homeless are not good – a disjointed education, lack of support network, risky drug and alcohol use and mental illness. It makes sense to intervene early to address the risk factors rather than waiting until a young person is already homeless.

“We believe early intervention models should be expanded, especially family engagement services like Reconnect which work with young people and their families by providing counselling, mediation and practical support. The funding runs out for this program in June 2017 and we have no clear idea of its future beyond that date.”

The data also looked at other risk factors to homelessness including perceived safety within their neighbourhood, level of comfort in inviting friends over and frequency of moving residence. The frequency and causes of young people moving house provides a good understanding of the home, school and local environment which has role to play in homelessness. Children who move house frequently have been found to have poorer education outcomes, and frequent moving may weaken or strain family bonds, which can put young people at risk of homelessness. This data showed:

  • The young people who had to spend time away from home were much more likely to be concerned about family conflict, depression, coping with stress and suicide than those who did not have to leave home
  • Over a third of young people reported having to move house in the last three years, with one in five having moved more than once. When asked why, the reasons young people commonly reported were: family breakdown or conflict.
  • Around one fifth of those who cited ‘family breakdown or conflict’ as a reason for moving said they had moved four or more times during the past three years
  • In more optimistic news, the majority of young people felt safe in their neighbourhoods (90.8%) and were comfortable inviting friends over to spend time in their home (89.1%)

“These findings paint a picture of a group of young people who move house frequently, often as a result of family breakdown or conflict, including domestic and family violence. In these situations, not only would the young person be trying to cope with the stress of family conflict, they would also be dealing with the stress of changing location, starting a new school, separation from friends and support network, making them vulnerable to homelessness.

“This further indicates the need for early intervention approaches for young people in these situations, to ensure that their vulnerability does not lead to entrenched homelessness. We need an approach which includes government, communities, schools and service providers to work together on preventative strategies to stop young people falling into a cycle of homelessness.” Ms Yeomans said.

The full report and recommendations can be found here

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