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“My experiences broke my trust.”–Gemma*, 21 from Melbourne
On any given night, at least 6,000 young people are homeless in Victoria.
Youth Affairs Council Victoria’s new report into youth homelessness comes directly from young people’s experiences, and elevates their voices, recommendations and calls for the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments to make a commitment to real action to end youth homelessness in the next ten years.
“The resources, capacity and solutions to end youth homelessness already exist. What is needed now is investment and action,” says Katherine Ellis, CEO of Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic).
“My experiences broke my trust,” says Gemma*, a 21 year old woman from Melbourne who became homeless after experiencing family violence.
“I was passed around like a hot potato. I was treated like I needed to go away in 12 weeks or less.”
The report elevates the voices of young people who have experienced homelessness, and identifies four key recommendations:
- Create a fair private rental market that works for young people
- Commit to an urgent and ongoing program to build enough social housing to end the waiting list
- Properly support young people at risk of experiencing homelessness
- Immediately raise the rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance
Young people are calling for governments to end the youth homelessness crisis, and implement solutions co-designed by young people who have experienced homelessness.
On any given night, there are at least 6,000 young people are homeless, which means twenty-six per cent of people experiencing homelessness in Victoria are aged between 12 and 24.
Every young person YACVic consulted for the report had experienced family violence.
Case Study: Gemma
“Everything was based around a stereotypical mother with children escaping a violent and possibly obsessive partner; and they didn't tailor their services to my needs and personal situation or help me connect with services that would help me properly,” says Gemma.
“I ran away from home at 17 after my mother threatened to kill me. Preceding this, she had outed me as LGBTIQA+ to others, strangled me, and had a long history of physical, mental and emotional abuse going back to my infancy. When I needed to attend university, I moved in with her parents, my grandparents. They were also abusive, but less severely and I thought being treated bad was okay if I survived and got an education.
“Then my grandfather threw me over three meters across the kitchen when I was trying to provide first aid to my grandmother. I swore to him and to myself that if they ever hurt me again like that, I would call the police. Then he got drunk and punched me in the face. So, I called the police.
“Calling the police sent my life into a spiral. They only did things that were symbolic of helping me such as getting an intervention order which said not to hit me again, but provoked my grandfather to throw me out of home with 30 minutes notice.
“I ended up only interacting with organisations for purely short-term reasons to have a roof over my head; stable accommodation was impossible to achieve.”
In addition to family violence, other major triggers for young people to leave home include relationship breakdown, alcohol and other drug use and leaving state care.
Young people can’t afford housing
Simultaneously, a lack of money for many young people due to the low rates of Newstart and Youth Allowance, and an unaffordable housing rental market, make it extremely difficult for young people to find timely, affordable housing.
Young people in YACVic’s report emphasised how difficult it is to get by on Newstart and Youth Allowance, even for their basic expenses.
“Right now, a young person on $600 per fortnight under Youth Allowance and Rent Assistance can’t cover their basic average expenses of $782 each fortnight (rent, groceries, bills, healthcare, transport and other incidentals),” says Ms Ellis.
“No-one should have to choose between a roof over their head and physical or emotional safety. But right now, some young people are having to choose between paying rent and paying for necessities like food or transport.”
“We must raise the rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance by $95 a week now. This is supported by most relevant organisations, from the Business Council of Australia to the Australian Council of Social Service.
“It is an extremely effective measure towards ending homelessness, because it helps young people afford housing.”
For Gemma, it costs 73% of her Youth Allowance and Rent Assistance to afford a single bedroom in shared accommodation, over an hour away from her university. Such stress has pushed her to contemplate ending her own life.
“Where could I get food? Soap? Can I sleep at uni in between my classes? How do I live for tomorrow and the next day?’ These were the questions I focussed on,” says Gemma.
“I couldn't function very well, and wanted very badly to ‘die’, in the terms of not existing anymore, or to get so hurt that I didn't have to think anymore.”
Discrimination in rental market and social housing allocation
Young people in YACVic’s report shared their experience of navigating the difficult rental market, and systemic discrimination which prevents young people from finding a safe place to live.
“Fewer than 1% of rentals in metropolitan Melbourne are affordable for a young person on income support; 24% for those working on minimum wage,” says Ms Ellis.
“And even if they do find a property, the real estate agents will often discriminate against young people’s applications due to stereotyping of young people as bad tenants.
“Or the property itself won’t meet minimum requirements to live safely. Young people are often the ones living in properties with unusable bathrooms, unsafe kitchens, and bedrooms infested with pests.
“These types of properties are unacceptable for any person and demonstrate the need for better quality affordable rentals.”
The report also notes that, if young people decide to apply for social housing instead of the private rental market, they will join a queue of 51,551 people who are on the waiting list. And face systemic discrimination.
“Social housing providers make their income from a percentage of tenants’ income, and since young people’s incomes are generally lower, they are less financially viable and consequently, social housing providers are less willing to house young people,” says Ms Ellis.
“The social housing model is broken and discriminates directly against young people.”
“I just want to feel safe and heard"–Gemma
Ending homelessness helps everybody
Young people who have experienced homelessness are calling for real change. They want access to affordable and safe housing, an adequate income and support services, so that they do not end up homeless when they experience family violence, mental ill-health or difficult life transitions.
“Ending homelessness will empower young people to focus on their goals, education, employment and the rest of their lives, which in turn benefits all of society,” says Ms Ellis.
“We can and should do everything we can to end youth homelessness in the next ten years.
“Thousands more young people will experience homelessness each year until we all begin genuine work on ending youth homelessness.”
Gemma has now had secure housing for five months, and is slowly regaining her sense of stability.
“I still feel guilty for every dollar I spend in case I lose everything again... and I struggle to find something worthwhile in myself and burn all the energy I have volunteering for my community and helping others until I have an 80-hour work week,” says Gemma.
But she is determined to make sure her experiences help improve the system overall and end youth homelessness.
“Ultimately I just want to feel safe and heard.”
Names have been de-identified to protect anonymity.
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Thomas Feng, YACVic Media and Communications Manager, 0431 285 275. Katherine Ellis, YACVic CEO is available for further comment.
About Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic)
Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) is the peak body and leading advocate for young people aged 12–25 and the youth sector in Victoria. Established in 1960, YACVic advocates for the rights of young people in Victoria to ensure they are active, visible and valued in their communities.