The National Youth Commission (NYC) this month released it’s report on youth homelessness, stating that the number of youths aged 12-25 and homeless has doubled in the past twenty years. This age group now makes up one third of the total 100,000 (estimated) homeless population in Australia.
About half of all homeless youths are turned away from shelters every night, simply because there aren’t enough beds for them. Only about 14% of homeless youths actually have access to a bed on any given night.
The NYC stated that the two main reasons for homelessness amongst youths are breakdown of relationships with parents or step parents, and financial or housing difficulties.
Mental illness is also a major contributing factor. The proportion of homeless youth with mental illness is 44%, compared with 18% of the general homeless population.
Law-breaking often accompanies homelessness, with young homeless people having 10 times the contact with police as in the general population.
The NYC says that our prosperity should be able to eliminate homelessness, and the unacceptably high figures are a national disgrace. It says that unless urgent action is taken, there could be an explosion in the number of homeless youth.
The report calls for an extra $100 million in federal funding over the next three years, and at least $20 million for the next ten years after that. The estimated net benefit of early intervention in this problem is $900 million. This takes into account that it costs $70,000 per year to keep a young person in detention, and the cost of support is significantly lower. Support also leads to new contributions to the economy.
The eighty recommendations of the report include four key areas that need to be addressed: Prevention of homelessness; Early intervention; Supporting needy youth; and Stopping homelessness recurring.
Welfare groups around the country have welcomed the NYC report. Mission Australia have supported its call for establishing a National Homelessness Strategy along with a range of other measures to tackle the problem.
Mission Australia’s Acting CEO, Mr Lincoln Hopper, said youth homelessness was a serious blight on Australian society. “When the number of homeless teenagers doubles in 20 years – despite us achieving record levels of prosperity in that time – then something is seriously wrong,” said Mr Hopper.
The Salvation Army, in response, issued it’s own three-pronged approach to the disturbing findings. This included: implementation of a youth support network to find innovative solutions to issues confronting homeless young people; the enhancement of existing services in rural and regional areas; and the release of the Salvation Army’s ‘Response to Youth Homelessness” which documents it’s own experiences with youth homelessness.