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According to the 2016 Census, over 43,500 children and young people in Australia are homeless, although we know from our service experience that the reality is far worse, as many others are ‘hidden homeless’ and not counted in the official statistics.
Hidden homelessness includes people doubling up (that is one family moving in with another), or couch surfing which is used to describe those living in garages, at a friend’s or relative’s place, or sleeping in temporary shelter, perhaps intermittently, but without guarantee of continued residency or permanency. Hidden homelessness is particularly common for families, children and young people, increasing the precariousness of their situation and the likelihood of entrenched homelessness if supports are not accessed.
Importantly, those experiencing hidden homelessness frequently don’t identify themselves as homeless and neither may those who are providing shelter for them). As such, they remain hidden not only from homelessness statistics but also from the service system, meaning that despite their inadequate housing circumstances they do not access supports or services needed.
While homelessness can be isolating, destabilising and traumatic for anyone experiencing it, its effects on children and young people whose development is not yet complete can be particularly devastating and long lasting. Homeless young people have been found to have much poorer physical and mental health than others their age. They have a notably higher incidence of reported self-injury and attempted suicide. They also have a greater likelihood of leaving school early, along with significantly higher unemployment rates than their peers.
There is a growing body of evidence being gathered about the true picture of child and youth homelessness. This report draws on our primary research, Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2017, to provide special insight into the housing experiences of young people across Australia, including details about their recent living arrangements, frequency of moving residence and experiences of homelessness over their lifetime – both with and without a parent/ guardian present. Importantly, due to the breadth of information gathered about young people through the Youth Survey and its large sample size, the report is also able to examine similarities and differences in the values, concerns and aspirations of young people who have experienced homelessness compared with those who have not.
Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2017 findings deepen our understanding of the issues faced by young people who have experienced homelessness and how these compare to the issues faced by young people who haven’t experienced homelessness. This research, which confirms other recent Australian studies, also serves to further the development of evidence based policy and best practice in service delivery.
A comprehensive response to youth homelessness requires early identification, prevention and intervention services, as well as suitable housing and wrap-around supports if and when homelessness does occur. With funding, commitment and shared effort Australia can end youth homelessness by 2030.
Mission Australia is a proud member of the Everybody’s Home campaign which calls for a commitment to end homelessness by 2030 and we believe ending youth homelessness is an important part of this goal. We know what works, but it needs funding, leadership, continuous commitment and shared effort which will best be achieved through a national homelessness strategy.