A landmark study has found homeless youth experience unemployment at more than nine times the national average, further fuelling calls for the federal government to outline a plan to address the tens of thousands of young people who find themselves homeless each year.
Wednesday is Youth Homelessness Matters Day, a national day to highlight the impact homelessness has on young people and its knock-on effects to broader society. Homelessness is not just people forced to 'sleep rough' on streets or in parks, its broader definition encompassing people who don't have a safe, stable place to live; couch-surfing, staying with friends, living temporarily in caravan parks or motels, or staying in refuges or shelters is also deemed 'homelessness'.
Youth Homelessness Matters Day is being celebrated nationwide, and in Sydney, the NSW peak body for youth homelessness Yfoundations launched its education and employment report 'Skills to Pay the Bills'.
Surveying 700 young people statewide, the report found unemployment among young people experiencing homelessness was 55 percent, more than nine times the current national unemployment rate of 5.9 percent and four times the current youth unemployment rate of 13 percent. Young people experiencing homelessness also have far lower high school completion rates than statewide averages.
Michelle Parker, the acting CEO of Yfoundation, said up to 60,000 young people experienced homelessness in NSW last year. Statistics around youth homelessness are difficult to pin down, due to the 'hidden homelessness' of young people who are couch-surfing or staying with friends, or who do not consider themselves to be homeless and therefore do not seek out services. However, statistics cited by various homelessness experts include:
- One in three people experiencing homelessness is under the age of 25;
- One in eight people experiencing homelessness is under the age of 10;
- 39,000 school-age children needed homelessness help last year;
- One in two adults receiving homelessness help first became homeless before age 18;
"Today is about us getting together nationally and saying what's happening at the moment is not OK," Parker told an event in Sydney. She said nearly 14,000 young people accessed homelessness services in 2015-16, but that the true problem is estimated to be more than four times higher.
"It's really quite ridiculous in Sydney. Thats a lot of people... [but] we think it might be about a quarter, that puts the numbers around 60,000 a year."
The problem is also large in Victoria. The Council to Homeless People said Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data found 38,400 people under the age of 25 accessed Victorian homelessness services in 2015-16. That's nearly 40 percent of all homelessness clients in the state. CHP's CEO Jenny Smith, too, said that number was likely vastly lower than reality.
"Young people's homelessness is too often hidden, because many young people are experiencing 'invisible homelessness' in the form of couch-surfing or overcrowding," Smith said.
Both Smith and Parker called on the federal government to introduce a targeted plan to reduce youth homelessness. Other organisations including Anglicare have also joined the call.
"A perfect storm of increasing reporting of family violence, decreasing housing affordability for families with kids, a pitifully low Youth Allowance and rising youth unemployment is contributing to the crisis levels of homelessness we're seeing amongst our youth," Smith said.
"In the absence of a national plan, we won't have any action. We're fortunate to have the interest of the treasurer on housing affordability, but we're concerned he's focusing on repurposing some of the existing funding and not actually talking about additional resources into addressing the issue. You need a plan, a strategy, and resources to start tackling it. We don't have any of those things."
"The last few years have been quite disappointing on a national level around what we've got for young people," she said in Sydney.
"There's not only no plan for action on homelessness, there's no plan for young people in Australia and that's a massive problem."
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