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A Youth Homelessness Strategy is needed to support the unique needs of young Victorians

decorative 30 November 2021

Young people have distinctive pathways into and experience of homelessness, including having limited coping strategies and resources as well as being at high risk of further trauma, according to new research from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).

The research, 'Towards a Youth Homelessness Strategy for Victoria' was undertaken by AHURI for MCM and outlines five key findings that can help guide the development of a Victorian Youth Homelessness Strategy.

The report finds that current Government policies have been ineffective in reducing youth homelessness in Victoria, with support systems fragmented and deficits in service delivery.

"While young people experiencing homelessness are recognised as a national priority cohort under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) between the Commonwealth and State/Territory governments, in Victoria there is currently no overarching strategy to address youth homelessness and coordinate support and interventions for young people who are homeless," says the report’s lead author Dr Tom Alves, Head of Development at AHURI.

"The current system is fragmented, designed for adults and doesn’t provide stability for young people who have no home and nowhere else to turn, and who have experienced significant trauma in their childhoods, such as family breakdown or abuse," says Mr Wayne Merritt, General Manager of Homelessness & Family Services at MCM.

"Some young people are living with crippling mental illness and untreated health issues."

The research made five major findings:

  • A youth specific lens is essential - young people experiencing homelessness are quite distinct to adults experiencing homelessness. Programs to meet the needs of young people need to support their transition to adulthood across a range of areas including housing and living skills; health and wellbeing; education and learning; employment and economic participation; and connection to culture and community.
  • Young people are not a minority - a youth homelessness strategy needs to embrace all young people regardless of how they might self-identify. Young people are too often classed as a minority group (in the same way as LGBTQI+ or people from CALD backgrounds may be identified), however youth homelessness is intersectional and embraces all young people no matter how they might otherwise see themselves.
  • A person-centred approach can prevent young people getting ‘stuck in the system’ - young people are finding themselves trapped in a fragmented system with no clear pathways out of homelessness based on their individual circumstances. Homelessness strategies must ensure young people don’t get ‘stuck in the system’ and that young people don’t just get ‘processed’ as homeless when there are other issues that are of equal concern, such as mental health issues, education problems or family mediation.
  • Disrupt the pathway from youth homelessness to adult homelessness - early and effective intervention reduces longer term consequences. The evidence shows that people who experience youth homelessness are more likely to face homelessness again as an adult—reducing the impact of homelessness early can have life-long benefits.
  • Housing solutions are fundamental to effective service system responses - lack of affordable, safe housing is a major problem. Often young people don’t need permanent housing—with time limited, supported housing they can go on to complete education and skills training before moving into their own independent housing. As young people can be very vulnerable, they also need housing that is separate from housing for the adult homeless population (e.g. boarding houses).

"As the development of Victoria’s 10-year housing strategy nears completion, we have an opportunity to ensure the needs of young people are recognised and included in the emerging policy landscape," says Mr Merritt.

"A large part of this is about giving young people the support to process the sometimes truly horrific events of their young lives and move forward with positive strategies for managing their own mental health and wellbeing, so they can participate in education, work and the community.’

Download the full report
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