Homelessness is more than houselessness
Homelessness does not just mean sleeping rough on the streets. There are three different types of homelessness that are used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics¹ and these are considered the standard cultural definition of homelessness in Australia.
Primary homelessness includes all people without a ‘roof over their head’. This means people who are living on the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting in derelict buildings or using cars or trains as temporary shelter.
Secondary homelessness includes people who frequently move from one type of shelter to another. This includes people living in homeless services, hostels, people staying with other households who have no home of their own and people staying in boarding houses for 12 weeks or less.
Tertiary homelessness refers to people who live in boarding houses on a medium to long term basis (more than 13 weeks), who live in accommodation that does not have ‘self-contained facilities’ for example they do not have their bathroom or kitchen and who don’t have the security provided by a lease. They are homeless because their accommodation does not have the characteristics identified in the minimum community standard for housing.
Youth homelessness is unseen
We often hear the reference to ‘street kids’ but in fact most homeless young people are invisible to us. This generally means that they are temporarily staying with friends, relatives, family and sometimes with complete strangers. These young people will often be sleeping on couches or on the floors of these people’s houses until they outstay their welcome and move on to the next place – hence the couch surfing term.
Young homeless people do not need rough sleeping initiatives alone but rather they need effective access to accommodation, family reconciliation services and community support and education programs to prevent homelessness.
Nearly half of all homeless Australians are children and young people under the age of 25.
There were 44,547 children and young people aged 0-25 who were homeless on census night in 2006. Broken down, there were 12,133 children under 12; 21,940 young people aged 12-18; and 10,504 young adults aged 19-25 who were homeless on census night in 2006.
Whilst the number of homeless youth has dropped since the 2001 census date there has been an increase in homeless children and young families and couples. This figure is 43% of all homeless people so therefore children and young people under 25 make up nearly half of all homeless people in Australia.
Specific strategies to address child and youth homelessness are critical to the overall reduction of homelessness in Australia
Homelessness can affect any young person
There are a variety of reasons why children and young people become homeless that are often outside of the control of the young person. The general public often has a view that young homeless people are run-aways and could really return home if they wanted to. In reality many young people become homeless due to family breakdown, family violence and child abuse.
Statistically 45% of homeless young people identify interpersonal relationship problems including family violence and parent/adolescent conflict as the primary reason for becoming homeless. The next most common reasons are accommodation issues (18%) such as being evicted or unable to find suitable accommodation and financial reasons (14%) such as unable to pay rent or other financial difficulty.³
Many young people find it difficult to be approved for leases due to the high demand on rental properties and discrimination against young people. There are also issues around overcrowding and the cost of housing that cause young people to become homeless.
Homelessness affects all groups of people and we know that young people who are indigenous, are from a single or blended family, have been homeless as a child or have been in statutory care, are at greater risk of homelessness.
The community needs to stop judging homeless youth as delinquent and create opportunities for young people to not become homeless or to access long term housing.