Accommodation shortage leaves young people out on the streets

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By Chloe Hodson-Smith

On any typical day of the week we get home from school, university or work, switch on our TV or computer, whip up a warm, home cooked dinner and relax with friends or family after a ‘rough’ day.

We rarely stop and think about those who don’t have the simple luxuries of protection and shelter that we take for granted in Victoria.

Conservative estimates show that about 500 young Victorians leave State care every year, often left to fend for themselves as their funding and support is cut on their 18th birthdays, and many move onto Centrelink allowances.

Research done by Monash University’s Dr Philip Mendes found that 50% of these young people will end up homeless in the first year, and 50% will have contact with the justice system in the first year.

Youth Homelessness Matters Day (YHMD) is a national awareness day, held on the 9th April, which draws awareness to the devastating effects that the lack of affordable accommodation and support can cause, particularly for young people leaving care.

YHMD also celebrates the positive impact of local programs across the country aimed at tackling youth homelessness.

Berry Street, Victoria’s largest child and family services organisation, is committed to assisting young people after they leave care.

Among a number of programs aimed at this group, is their GOALS program which provides up to eight young people who have left State care with accommodation and support, while they pursue further education or employment, with an aim to prepare them to move out on their own after two years.

Youth resilience is also underestimated.

While young people leaving care may not have the resources to escape homelessness, they are not helpless.

As a young man, Dante* ran away from his abusive family at the vulnerable age of 15, and from there on he tested the system’s limits. His story reflects the susceptibility of young people in situations like his to fall into homelessness.

This is a situation most of our fifteen year old selves would not have endured. But for some, it was once a normal part of their lives.

Imagine the broken pieces of a misplaced childhood flashing before you; passing through the foster care and/or residential care system and eventually into private rental, or homelessness.

Dante struggled during this process.

On your 18th birthday you’re considered an adult and therefore responsible for yourself and your living circumstances. However, it is normal for most Victorian parents to allow their 18 year olds to stay at home for several years longer, many only leaving at age 24.

The complexity of Dante’s teenage years casts a grey cloud over the system’s cut off of support for young people leaving care.

Once he turned 18, Dante left State care and the difficulty of finding adequate shelter led him back to homelessness. He stayed at friends’ houses frequently but recalls the guilt this caused him,

“You don’t want to burn your bridges and all that”, he said.

He sometimes retreated to an abandoned mill that was near to his old high school, where someone had left a bed. It was dirty and rusted but he slept in it anyway.

Dante spent most of his life, at 18 years old, wandering through the bars and past the pokies at the Crown Casino.

The anxieties we all face in financial and job insecurity along with the lack of available housing, are exaggerated for young people who have no place to call home, forced to queue up in extensive waiting lists, which can take several years before a public housing unit is available for residency.

During this period, Dante discovered Berry Street, where he was accepted into the GOALS program.

Berry Street’s Senior Manager of Youth Services, Kerry Antonucci, insists that “[Care leavers need] someone to be with them and give them that support they need as they try to negotiate the challenges of independent living”.

The GOALS program enables young people leaving care at the age of 18 to move into provided accommodation with a volunteer mentor, available at all times, to offer support.

There is a requirement, however, that they must also be involved in some form of education or work to qualify. In Dante’s case, and for many others, the surplus demand for accommodation is the most significant road block in avoiding homelessness.

The GOALS program was facilitated by the donation of the Footscray property from the Peter and Lyndy White foundation.

It is planned that a similar program will be set up in Berry Street’s Gippsland Region, to help local young people, following a sizeable donation from philanthropists Malcolm and Pat Chestney.

The generous funding enabled Berry Street to purchase a block of flats in Morwell. Three young people are already signed up to stay in this newly established accommodation program.

 

*name has been changed to protect the identity of the young person.

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