April 21 - 27, 2024: Issue 622


Standalone Child and Youth Homelessness Housing Plan Called for: Youth Homelessness Matters Day  2024 - over 8 thousand young people turned away from crisis Accommodation 

Image:  The Couch Project ran on September 18 2015; not much has improved. Photo: Barry Smith 
Yfoundations, the NSW peak body providing a voice for children and young people at risk of and experiencing homelessness, is calling for the Australian government to include a standalone Child and Youth Homelessness and Housing Plan as part of the National Housing and Homelessness Plan and Agreement in 2024.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) data 2022-23 released on December 12 2023 revealed an alarming picture of the scale and spread of child and youth homelessness in Australia, says peak organisation Yfoundations

Over 38,000 young people aged 15–24 years presented to a homelessness service in 2022–23. Of these young people, almost half experienced mental ill-health and over one third experienced domestic and family violence.

The majority of these young people were in need of short- or long-term accommodation and most were turned away due to a lack of capacity. These statistics only scratch the surface of issues that young people experiencing homelessness face.

The capacity of homelessness services has fallen by almost 17,000 clients a year in recent times and services face a $73 million funding shortfall from June 2024.

In 2022-23, three in ten SHS clients were under the age of 18. Almost 40,000 of SHS clients in 2022-23 were children and young people (15-24) presenting on their own.

Similar to previous years, females and First Nations people were overrepresented in these figures.

“We see very similar trends in NSW, where almost 50% of people seeking help from Specialist Homelessness Services were under 25,” said Trish Connolly, Yfoundations CEO “There has also been a significant rise in rough sleeping among young people presenting alone.

“It’s particularly concerning that about half of young people presenting alone suffered mental health issues and one third experienced family and domestic violence, according to the national data.

“Services tell us that children and young people who come to them for help are escaping domestic and family violence however the data doesn’t reflect the true scale of the problem.

In 2022/23, every day, 295 people who needed a crisis bed or help were turned away because services were at capacity. We believe, these numbers will be much higher in reality, because we know that children and young people will couch surf, remain in violent homes, or sleep rough because they have no idea that services exist. Even if they did, the report demonstrates they are unlikely to get a bed tonight because services are full.

“Sadly, these figures show nothing has changed; it’s only become worse with a significant increase in people being turned away from getting a crisis bed or service,” said Ms Connolly.

“Current strategies are not working and we hope the Federal and State Governments take this into consideration when they’re developing the National Housing and Homelessness Plan and Agreement in 2024. Governments must urgently respond to the homelessness crisis by increasing investment in services but unfortunately, funding is on the decline.

“It's clear that the broader rental, housing and cost of living crises, which show no sign of subsiding, is putting more pressure on already underfunded homelessness service providers and making it harder for children and young people in desperate situations to find a home.

“A staggering number of children and young people turn up to services alone. Many of them have a mental health issue, are escaping domestic and family violence or have a drug and alcohol issue. They are incredibly vulnerable and continue to be neglected in government funding and responses.

“We need governments to commit to bold, decisive steps to get this crisis under control. The Federal Government should follow the NSW Government’s lead and commit to developing a standalone Child and Youth Homelessness and Housing Plan.

“A standalone Child and Youth Homelessness and Housing Plan could be instrumental in changing the lives of many children and young people for the better if it provides for sufficient long-term funding, commits to an ambitious target for eradicating child and youth homelessness within a reasonable timeframe and prioritises the lived expertise of those who have experienced homelessness as a child or young person”.

Youth Homelessness Matters Day 2024

Youth Homelessness Matters Day (YHMD), a national day that was conceived in 1990 to raise awareness and public discussion about child and youth homelessness, is held every year on the third Wednesday of April. This year, YHMD was last Wednesday, April 17.

Over the years, YHMD has grown into a national celebration of young people’s resilience and an important day of advocacy for sustainable and innovative solutions to support the needs of children and young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

This year those who work to end child and youth homelessness released a new national poll by Essential Media that found across Australia and all age groups, 80 percent of people agree that child and youth homelessness is unacceptable and that all levels of government must do more to tackle the issue. 

On Youth Homelessness Matters Day community organisations joined with young people to urge Federal and State governments to commit to ending child and youth homelessness – to develop a national stand-alone Child & Youth Homelessness Strategy with adequate funding.

“Too many children and young people in Australia live in unsafe home environments, couch-surf or sleep rough. Frontline services know what needs to be done, they just need more funding to provide the children and young people who come to them with crucial support,” said Trish Connolly, national coordinator of Youth Homelessness Matters Day and Yfoundations CEO.

Key facts:

  • 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness are under 24.
  • Last year 38,300 children and young people (15–24 years old) presented alone needing support from a Specialist Homelessness Service (SHS).
    • 17,248 of them needed a crisis bed – but only 1 in 2 got it. This resulted in 8,450 children and young people being turned away.
  • Currently HALF of the children and young people in desperate need of a crisis bed for the night don’t not get it.
  • Frontline services state that nearly 90% of the children and young people who come to them are escaping violence.

“We are particularly concerned that when children and young people turn up to a specialist youth homelessness service, only half can get the crisis bed and support they need, the rest are turned away,” said Ms Connolly.

“Frontline Youth Homelessness service providers tell us that they don’t have enough funding to provide crisis beds to all the children and young people who need them. They do everything they can to avoid turning children away, but they only have enough funding to support HALF the children and young people who come to them needing a safe bed.

“Children and young people who are turned away resort to couch-surfing, returning to violent homes or sleeping in unsafe and insecure conditions.

“Many of these children and young people have experienced violence in the home, mental health concerns or multiple disadvantages. It is heart-breaking to turn them away from the lifesaving support they need because services are underfunded.

The Essential poll found that 80% of respondents believe there should be the necessary accommodation available for any child or young person in need – with strong bipartisan consensus: 78% of Labor voters, 79% of Coalition voters and 81% of Greens voters agreed any child or young persons should have the accommodation support they need.

“We call on the Federal Government and all State and Territory Governments to significantly increase funding for frontline services to ensure all children and youth facing homelessness can access crisis accommodation, wrap around support and medium to long-term housing.

“Governments must also recognise and address the factors causing and contributing to child and youth homelessness, including poverty, domestic and family violence, insufficient social and affordable housing and the rental crisis”, concluded Ms Connolly.

In 2023 the Australian Government funding allocation for New South Wales was estimated to be $482.2 million general funding and $33.4 million homelessness funding from 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2024. Actual funding entitlements may vary in line with Clause 42 of the Agreement.

The new National Housing and Homelessness Plan Issue paper was launched in August 2023.

Minister for Housing Julie Collins officially launched the Plan’s Issues Paper at the start of Homelessness Week, stating that the Plan was a crucial part of the Government’s broader housing reforms.

“Too many people are struggling to find a safe and affordable place to buy, to rent or to spend the night,” Minister Collins said.

“Through the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, we will set out how these issues can be tackled head on by governments across the country with short, medium and long term reforms.”

The Plan was being developed in close collaboration with state and territory governments and local government associations.

A summary Report released after the consultation on the Issues paper had closed noted:

  • Long-term funding for homelessness services:  Across the country, not enough funding is provided to homelessness services. This particularly relates to the length and levels of funding.
  • Inadequate support and crisis accommodation to respond to homelessness: There are not enough crisis accommodation and support services to help with homelessness. This is a particular problem for supporting people with complex needs and in regional areas.  People with lived experience of homelessness said temporary accommodation can be unsafe. Often, there is a lack of basic facilities for cooking, showering and laundry.
  • Lack of coordination: People often don’t know what housing options are available to them, particularly as they move from crisis to transitional to long-term accommodation. Services and support that helps to prevent homelessness during these transitions are not well coordinated.

Potential solutions suggested by stakeholders were:

  • Mandatory inclusionary zoningRequire inclusionary zoning by putting rules in place to make sure all new developments set aside a percentage of land for social and affordable housing.
  • Set targets and collect dataSet targets for social housing. All levels of government and private investors need to work together to reach the targets. This includes collecting and sharing data to see if we are meeting targets and to monitor where there are housing shortages.
  • Different models of housing to break the cycle of homelessnessUse housing models designed for younger people, like foyer models and youth shelters to effectively prevent housing insecurity. These initiatives focus on education and relationships with landlords. They can be a great way to provide early intervention and help young people become independent.
  • Incentives, collaboration and local initiativesPrivate investors and landlords need incentives like tax breaks and subsidies to provide more social and affordable housing. They could also partner with communities and governments to deliver social and affordable housing models. Collaboration needs to happen at the local level to support community initiatives. This will improve how resources are directed to areas in need and makes sure housing is culturally relevant and sustainable.

Opinion piece: Youth Homelessness Matters Day

by The Hon Julie Collins MP
Minister for Housing, Minister for Homelessness
April 17, 2024

Late last year, I sat down with young Tasmanians to talk about the future of housing in our country.

Like many young people across Australia, they were keen to hear how we plan to work with other governments to do more in supporting those experiencing housing challenges and improve housing affordability.

It’s a conversation that I’ve carried with me as I continue my work as Minister for Housing and Homelessness, and one that I’m drawing from as we mark Youth Homelessness Matters Day on Wednesday April 17.

Too many young Australians don’t have a safe and affordable place to call home.

That’s why the Albanese Labor government is committed to working alongside all levels of government and the community sector to ensure more young Australians have the support they need.

A key example of this is our government’s continued investment of more than $91 million into youth homelessness through the Reconnect program over 3 years.

Now in its 25th year, Reconnect is a community‑based and family‑focused program for early intervention and prevention of youth homelessness.

It offers access to a range of services to support young people to improve relationships with their family, stay connected to education or employment, and participate in their local community.

Reconnect is helping young Australians through more than 100 locations across the country, and I was pleased to visit another service earlier this month to discuss their important work in keeping young people connected and supported.

Hearing directly from the staff at Twenty10 inc. in Sydney underscored the importance of our government’s support for Reconnect.

But we know that this support alone cannot tackle the challenges our country’s young people are facing.

It requires collaboration – including with state and territories, local government and the construction sector – to work towards our country’s ambitious target to build 1.2 million homes.

We know building more homes for Australians who need them is the best way we can help to ensure fewer young Australians experience homelessness.

That’s why we have a broad and ambitious housing agenda, backed by more than $25 billion in new housing investments during the next decade.

Our new investments – including the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund and the $2 billion Social Housing Accelerator – will deliver more homes for Australians who need them.

We’re also providing support with the biggest boost to Commonwealth Rent Assistance in more than 30 years.

Another important collaboration is our ongoing work with states and territories, and housing and homelessness organisations on the development of the National Housing and Homelessness Plan.

The plan will help set out a shared national vision on tackling the country’s housing challenges across the responsibilities of different levels of government, and how best to support those experiencing housing stress and homelessness.

Labor is ensuring our broad and ambitious housing reform agenda is working for Australians – including our youth – right across the board, with more help for renters, more help for homebuyers, and more help for people needing a safe place for the night.

The Reconnect Program is a community-based early intervention and prevention program for young people aged 12 to 18 years (or 12 to 21 years in the case of newly arrived youth) who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and their families.

The aim of Reconnect is to prevent youth homelessness by intervening early with young people to stabilise and improve their housing situation and their level of engagement with family, education, training, employment and their local community.

Reconnect helps around 7,000 young people each year to improve their relationships with their family, stay at school and to participate in their local community.

Reconnect services provide counselling, group work, mediation and practical support to the whole family, to help break the cycle of homelessness. Reconnect services work collaboratively with schools and a range of services to make sure all clients presenting to or being referred to Reconnect either receive assistance, or are directed to more appropriate services, such as specialised mental health services.

Reconnect Services in New South Wales are listed here: https://www.dss.gov.au/families-and-children/programmes-services/reconnect/reconnect-services-in-new-south-wales

There is nothing listed on that page for this area - BUT you can contact the Burdekin Association, at Brookvale. Their webpage states

Our youth housing program provides accommodation for young people who are committed to working with our Case Managers to develop the range of skills required to make the transition to living independently in the community. We are community based, in the Northern Sydney area, offering a range of support and accommodation services to young people aged between the ages of 12 and 24 years, and their families.

Visit: http://www.sydneyhomelessconnect.com/services/the-burdekin-association/

At the youth forum in Hobart, as part of the 2023 consultation process, young people shared their vision for housing. Young people said everyone has the right to housing and to be helped to get housing without facing discrimination or feeling unsafe.

They want sustainable and safe neighbourhoods, where communities are connected and cared for. They said housing needs to come in different shapes and sizes, but all neighbourhoods should include green spaces and have nearby support services. Community gardens, culture and art should be included in designs.

However, first and foremost, young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness because reconnecting will lead to more assaults, need somewhere to find shelter - after that they need a process in place to find them a place to live where they can afford to feed themselves as well.

They need a place to call home.

The stories shared this Youth Homelessness Matters day echoed a simple, yet profound plea: children and young people need a safe place to live.

👉 The housing crisis was the most common reason young people presenting alone sought assistance from an SHS in 2022-2023. This is no surprise, given that across Australia, there were/are zero affordable rental properties for someone on Youth Allowance. 

👉 Over one-third (34%) of young people presenting alone to SHS had experienced domestic and family violence. Anecdotally Yfoundations states the feedback from frontline services indicates this statistic is more likely to be 80-90%.

👉 Almost one-third (28%) of young people presenting alone to SHS in 2022-23 were couch surfing at the start of support, but Yfoundations states the numbers are much higher. Couch surfing is a hidden, precarious, and dangerous form of youth homelessness. 

The National Housing and Homelessness Plan and Agreement is due to be delivered this year.