Taking action to address youth homelessness

Homelessness remains to be a chronic issue in our community with hundreds in the G21 region experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. As part of Homelessness Week (7 – 13 Aug), we’re raising awareness for those experiencing homelessness and highlighting the work of our community partners addressing this issue.

Homelessness is multifaceted. For some this means sleeping rough on the street, for others they are  couch surfing with friends or living in a car. And the causes are varied – domestic violence, a shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to homelessness in the region.

However, homelessness is not just an issue that affects adults. Sadly, 40% of those who are homeless are under the age of 25. The Cost of Youth Homelessness Report (April 2016) highlighted the impact of homelessness on young people, finding that homeless youth experience:

  • Higher levels of psychological distress where 61% of the homeless young women participating in the study (and 51% of the men) experienced very high or high distress, compared with 19% of female (and 12% of male) young Australians in the general population.
  • Significantly higher unemployment rates. Nearly one quarter (22%) of homeless young people have never had a paid job in their lifetime, compared with only 6% of young jobseekers.
  • Greater likelihood of leaving school early. Only one third (31%) of homeless young people had completed Year 12, compared with 57% of young job seekers.
  • Over half (53%) of homeless young people reported that they had been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition in their lifetime, compared to 26% of young people in the general population (who met the criteria for diagnosis of a lifetime prevalence of a mental health disorder and experiencing symptoms in the previous year).

Over the last year, the Foundation’s ENGAGE – Youth in Philanthropy program focused on the issue of youth homelessness. ENGAGE is a partnership with Barwon Child, Youth & Family and Gforce Employment Solutions. The program builds the skills and experiences of a core group of young people to engage more effectively in school and the community by developing and managing a youth led grants process that results in grants to organisations helping to solve issues facing young people in the community.

Our ENGAGE youth participants identified the effects of youth homelessness as the issue for the program’s first year. The youth participants developed and managed a grant process which resulted in supporting two organisations working to address the issue of homelessness:

  • Bluebird Foundation ($15,000) to break down the stigma of youth homelessness and build community connections through Athena’s Guild a community-based arts and health project that brings together 5 professional musicians/song-writers and 5 homeless youth. Through the program they work together in pairs and in group workshops to write and perform songs that tell their stories. The project will culminate in a public performance event.
  • The Ladder Project Foundation ($10,000) to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of young people at risk of or who are homeless in Geelong. 15 participants in the Ladder program will learn about respectful relationships, sexual health as well as managing and coping techniques through art and music therapy. These skills and knowledge learnt will last their lifetime.

While these grants will impact young people who are at risk of homelessness or homeless, the impact of the program was also felt by the young people who participated themselves, one of the young participants commented “Participation in the ENGAGE group, opened my eyes on what is happening around me. I got to thinking that poor people there only in Asian countries. But knowing that they are here, made me very surprised. Because I thought, a country that accepts immigrants and protect them, they should not have homeless people themselves. By the time, I understood it does not relate to the country and is not the people’s choice either. ENGAGE group made me feel a positive and helpful person, as a member of the group, who helps homeless people.”

Above: Kayla and Solida from the ENGAGE – Youth in Philanthropy Program with Bluebird Foundation’s Bron (L) and Somayeh and Solida with Sarah from The Ladder Project Foundation (R).