OPINION | Youth Homelessness Still Matters – More than ever before It’s a sad reality that we even need Youth Homelessness Matters Day in 2022. But here we are. On any given night in Australia, 27,680 young people experience some form of homelessness – 1 in 5 of those young people in Victoria alone (ABS 2016). Young people who are couch surfing, sleeping rough, living in an overcrowded housing, or relying on unsafe bed sits and in emergency short term housing like unsafe bed sits. In a developed country like Australia, seeing housing treated like a commodity - and not as the human right that it is - astonishes me. Instead of addressing the systemic issues of housing, we focus on reactive and stop-gap measures. The root cause of this stems from the long-term conditioning that home ownership is god, and those that can afford it are driven to buy more than they (actually) need. A Swinburne-led study found the annual cost of health and justice services for homeless youth in Australia an estimated $626 million (Swinburne 2016). Not only do we have a social responsibility, we also have an economic responsibility to radically change youth homelessness – and NOW. In 2020–21, 41,700 young people were supported by specialist homelessness services, with almost half (48%) of those young people reporting poor mental health (AIWH 2021), and 1 in 3 young people leaving out-of-home care experience homelessness within 12 months of leaving care (AIWH 2021). I am deeply saddened at the stark reality that I may not be able to influence a complete system overhaul in my lifetime. However, my commitment remains steadfast, and by using my voice I can at least contribute to fixing what we have. Young people have told us that the main reasons for them being without a stable home are: Family violence, sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the home Insufficient income to pay rent and living costs Rising costs of housing and everyday living necessities Under-employment Lack of support when in, or moving from, state care Mental health, drug and alcohol issues Overcrowded living conditions And the traumatic experience that follows the death of a parent. So, what can we do about it? There are a few immediate (but non-exhaustive) changes that should be adopted in the immediate, short and medium term to decrease the risk of, and repeat youth homelessness. Public housing We cannot be lulled into a false sense of security that social and affordable housing is the answer, relying on housing agencies, developers, and investors alone won't fix supply. We must build more Public and Government owned housing, and treat housing as the basic human right that it is. Education The Australian education system does not work for all young people. Less algebra and more learning do taxes. We do not teach young people ‘how to adult’, we struggle with teaching life skills because our hard working teachers are stuck teaching kids how to pass a test. Overhaul the curriculum to focus on inclusion of real life skills, mental health management, and better financial literacy. Career pressure Stop telling 16 and 17-year-olds to choose and commit to their career path at such an early age – their prefrontal cortex hasn’t even fully developed by this age. The unrelenting pressure on young people to determine their life path at such an early age has dire consequences on self-worth, self-confidence and their overall mental health. Mental Health First Aid Equip every parent, carer, guardian, teacher, Doctor, Nurse with the knowledge on how to identify and better support young people with their mental health issues. We know early intervention works, so let’s intervene early. Nutrition & Daily Essentials You can’t expect kids to make good decisions without a roof over their head or food in their belly. Scale up food security programs with a focus on nutrition that feeds hungry people, but fuels healthy bodies and minds. Fund free public transport for all young people. Put an end to Family Violence Family violence and abuse in the home is a leading cause of youth homelessness. Young people need safe spaces (like those provided by Youth Projects) to escape too. Funding local place-based initiatives like Off the Couch, The Living Room or Youth Foyers gives young people the support they need, where they need it. Roll out a national family violence education program and embed these programs across every layer of school, workplace and government. Why? 2.5 million Australian adults experienced abuse during their childhood - the majority know the perpetrator and experienced multiple incidents of abuse (ABS 2016). Income Support An overwhelming number of young people experiencing homelessness and hardship are merely surviving on income support arrangements. They are forced to live on $45.90 a day (Services Australia 2022). This is nowhere near enough to foot the absolute basic expenses like rent, food, transport, hygiene products and getting job ready. Double the rate of income support to provide a genuinely sufficient platform for young people to get on their feet – and just you watch how quickly young people dive into education, training, meaningful employment, and lead safer, healthier, happier lives. Close the Digital Gap Not everyone has access to a new laptop every few years or unlimited wifi. Not all rural (or metro) kids are connected. If we really want young people to educate themselves in critical and in-demand industries, close the digital gap and enable equal access to technology. Youth Homelessness still Matters. Sad, true and still necessary. For any media enquiries, please call Nic Horton (Marketing & Communications Manager) on 0458 911 299. Reference | The Cost of Youth Homelessness in Australia, 2016 Centre of Social Impact Written by Ben Vasiliou. Appointed as CEO of Youth Projects in 2017, Ben is an experienced CEO and community Board Director, who is leading the way in early intervention and prevention for young people, whilst delivering critical support to people experiencing homelessness. As a passionate advocate for the most vulnerable Australians, Ben is committed to driving significant reform and change to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be the best that they can be. Ben is well versed in building high performing organisations and his ability to combine DNA, purpose, sovereignty, and strategy is critical to Youth Projects success and has been the driving force behind our current strategic plan. Ben aims to modernise and sophisticate the nonprofit way of thinking.