On Youth Homelessness Matters Day 2017, we must reflect on some shocking figures. Forty-two per cent of the homeless population in Australia is under 25, which means there are 26,000 young people without a permanent place to call home.

We know many are in this situation because they are escaping conflict or violence at home and that without adequate social support they are at risk of homelessness and a raft of long-term consequences.

Homeless youth lack safety and are exposed to drugs and alcohol, they have more health and medical issues and a higher likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system. About half of them will develop a mental health condition and many will attempt suicide. Further down the track, they are at greater risk of becoming one of the long-term unemployed.

These are dreadful outcomes, and certainly the housing affordability crisis in Australia does not help this situation at all. But we also must do more to intervene early in the lives of young people to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

The costs involved in doing so – in developing programs and resourcing them – can seem high. But the costs to society in not doing so are even greater.

Mission Australia’s Reconnect program is one such response to youth homelessness that offers social supports to young people who are experiencing conflict at home. And we must support those for whom returning home is not an option, to exit homelessness as soon as possible. They must be supported to find safe, secure and appropriate housing quickly, and be given access to social services that link them to education, training and employment.

We must do better at helping all our young people, whether homeless or not. We must help them all to make successful transitions from school to training and employment.

The latest job figures show deterioration in the already unacceptably high rate of youth unemployment, which in some areas is as high as 14.9 per cent. And too many of our young people can find only casual or part-time work.

This week we launched our 2017 national Youth Survey, which each year, gives us and policy-makers useful insights into the aspirations and concerns of young people.

All too often certain sections of the media demonise young people as being lazy and content to languish on welfare.

But our Youth Survey tells us the opposite – young people for the most part aspire to complete their education, get a trade or further education so they can find good jobs. They just need to navigate and be helped to link up the services they need.

However, all too often our school system does not facilitate successful transitions while governments continue to work in silos.

We’ve made a good start in providing extra support through Government initiatives such as Transition to Work and Try Test Learn. But such initiatives on their own will not give young people the opportunities they need if governments adopt a punitive approach by cutting vital income supports, such as Newstart, and ask people under 25 to wait for up to five weeks to be eligible for benefits when they need them.

Let’s give our young people the support and opportunities they deserve. Because if we don’t we will pay a terrible cost in long-term social dislocation and isolation, youth homelessness and burgeoning welfare support.

Catherine Yeomans

 

Catherine Yeomans
CEO Mission Australia
@cathyeomans

 

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