YOUTH homelessness is at alarming levels despite 15 years of economic growth, and deserves the same priority as climate change and water supply on the nation's policy agenda, a major inquiry warns.
The first national investigation into youth homelessness since the Burdekin inquiry 20 years ago has found the number of homeless teenagers has doubled to 22,000 since 1989, and one in two homeless youths is turned away from emergency shelters every night because services are full.
When young adults aged 18 to 25 are counted in, then number rises to 36,000.
The National Youth Commission, which releases its searing report today after a year-long inquiry, has called for a national commitment to eliminate youth homelessness over the next 25 years. It says this should start with a $100 million increase in government funding over the next three years, and an extra $1 billion over the decade for new forms of youth housing, boarding school options for indigenous children, early intervention programs, higher welfare payments, crisis accommodation and drug, alcohol and mental health programs.
It also warns that Australia is on the brink of a new explosion in the numbers of homeless youth because of the housing affordability crisis.
The report, Australia's Homeless Youth, makes 80 recommendations aimed at promoting a long-term, bipartisan commitment in place of the current piecemeal and unco-ordinated approach to the crisis.
It says the country is at a watershed because it now has the first evidence it is possible to reduce youth homelessness. In the past five years, effective early intervention programs have reduced youth homelessness from 26,000 in 2001, but the programs reach only a third of the young people who need them.
"We are at a turning point," said David MacKenzie, one of the four commissioners and a Swinburne University academic who has helped pioneer a census of homeless youth. Without a huge national effort, youth homelessness would worsen because of soaring rents and a lack of affordable housing, he said.
The commission - also comprising Father Wally Dethlefs, who sat on the Burdekin inquiry, Major David Eldridge of the Salvation Army and Narelle Clay, chief executive of a youth and family service - urges the Labor government to spend a third of the $150 million it has already promised for housing the homeless on youths aged 12 to 24, in line with their representation among the nation's homeless population.
The report paints a heartbreaking picture of children and young people who are the fall-out of three decades of social and economic change, of families not up to the task of child-rearing because of poverty, mental illness, violence, substance abuse, divorce and neglect; of warring blended families and families at breaking point because of angry, rebellious adolescents.
Major Eldridge told the Herald sexual and physical abuse by step-parents was also a significant issue. "We should be up in arms about it. It is not just happening in indigenous communities."
The inquiry, which held hearings across the nation, was told by the manager of a youth refuge that "each young person has experienced the erosion or defeat of a significant relationship, usually with an adult who in an ideal world has the role of providing unconditional love and care Some of these relationships can be restored and some will not be, and some should not be."
The report calls for a "radical national review" by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission into the failure of state care systems to adequately help children and adolescents who cannot live with their parents, and to provide after-care services to young adults who leave state care.
Major Eldridge said Australia had a sorry history of under-resourcing its services for children. "Thirty years ago I worked in children's homes - tragic places with dormitories for 15 boys - and we chose to heavily under-resource them, and to under-value what children and young people were saying about their lives," he said. "We are paying the price now. In 20 years' time will people again ask: 'Why didn't you do something different?"'
The inquiry, independently financed by the Caledonia Foundation, sets out a 10-point "road map" for the Federal Government that begins with the development of a national homeless action plan to eliminate the problem by 2030.
Among the recommendations are a new form of housing for independent young people; a trebling of funding to the Reconnect program; an extra $50 million a year for emergency refuges; an immediate injection of $20 million for drug and alcohol services; support for parents who take in their children's homeless friends; more public housing; and a national review of welfare services in schools.
Federal Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek says both sides of politics have failed abused youth, and has called for fresh bipartisanship on the issue of youth homelessness.
"I don't think anyone in the Australian community can be happy that the rates of child abuse and neglect in this country are rising," Ms Plibersek told ABC TV.
"I think they're failures of both sides of politics.
"I think they're failures of our community."
A new report from the National Youth Commission has found the number of homeless youths, aged between 12 and 18, across the country has doubled to 22,000 in the past two decades. At the report's launch on Tuesday, Ms Plibersek said an extra $150 million in government funding that had been committed to building more accommodation was a "down payment" on a solution for the future.
The minister said she believed there were plenty of opposition politicians willing to help. "I know a lot of people in the now opposition ... who are people of good faith and good will who would be as shocked as anyone about the huge numbers of homeless people," she told ABC TV. "I hope that they'll be able to work with us co-operatively," she said.
YOUTH homelessness in Australia has reached crisis point, with 22,000 teenagers homeless every night and a potential "explosion" in those numbers ahead, partly driven by failures in state care systems. A year-long inquiry by the National Youth Commission has found the extent of teenage homeless has doubled in nearly two decades, since then human rights commissioner Brian Burdekin released his landmark report on the problem. In a major new report, to be launched by Professor Burdekin today, the commission describes the extent of youth homelessness in Australia now as "a national disgrace". It finds 100,000 Australians are homeless on any given night, with at least 36,000 aged from 12 to 25. But it warns emergency accommodation services are "so inadequate" that only 14 per cent of homeless people have access to a bed. "Every night, one in two young people who seek a bed ... is turned away because services are full," the report says. "This is totally unacceptable in a country as prosperous as Australia." The inquiry, which held 21 days of hearings in all states, found there were "significant barriers" to reducing homelessness, including a diminishing supply of affordable housing. It also blasted "inadequacies" in state care and protection systems, warning that serious issues had been raised about the treatment of vulnerable young people. According to the report, "cases of systemic failure were too numerous" to be considered isolated. Evidence from the inquiry's Melbourne hearings indicated a third of young people leaving state care were "case managed into homelessness services". Combined with a sharp increase in the number of children in state care ( doubling to 27,000 in a decade ) the report predicted more teenagers in care would inevitably end up homeless. "If urgent action is not taken, these pressures could lead to an explosion in the numbers of homeless youth," it said. The report called for an immediate Human Rights Commission inquiry into the problems of young people in state care. It also demanded state governments urgently increase staffing of their care and protection agencies and provide more help to teenagers leaving their charge. "If we are serious about addressing the homelessness of the most alienated and damaged young people in our community then it is imperative that we rigorously examine and reform our state care systems," the report said. To help turn around youth homelessness, the report has recommended a $1 billion investment over 10 years. That would pay for more early intervention programs, increased emergency accommodation with better-paid workers to help stop high staff turnover, improved services for those with mental health or drug and alcohol problems and better education and job placement programs. "(Youth homelessness) has just slipped off the national agenda," said Father Wally Dethlefs, a member of the inquiry and a Catholic priest based in Brisbane. "One 11-year-old girl said to me 'I am a nothing, I am a nobody. It doesn't matter what anybody does to me or what I do to anybody else.' "That's the despair."
AUSTRALIAN political leaders will be forced to confront a damning report this week revealing the country's youth homelessness shame.
The National Youth Commission inquiry will deliver its findings on Tuesday after a year-long investigation into the crisis, with a 10-point plan to spend almost $1 billion to tackle the problem.
The report reveals that despite Australia's increased prosperity over the past two decades, the number of homeless youths had doubled.
The inquiry follows a 1989 investigation into youth homelessness by the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner Brian Burdekin. Inquiry head Prof David Mackenzie, from Swinburne University's Institute for Social Research in Melbourne, said governments at all levels had "not done enough". "When I look back over almost 20 years I'm somewhat underwhelmed by the response to the Burdekin report because it wasn't followed up with any sort of planned approach nationally," he said. More than 100,000 Australians live on the street, a third are under 25, a quarter live in Queensland.
Angela Barnes, executive manager of Brisbane Youth Services, said homelessness had become more common in the past 20 years, and governments had failed to take action. "They need to realise that these are not just homeless people, they are amazing young people and they just need more investment in them," she said. The service, run from Church St in Fortitude Valley, aims to help people get back on their feet through free meals and a training and employment project. Fifty people a day, on average, walk through the doors. "It's difficult for people to imagine how hard it is to be homeless," Ms Barnes said. "If you're hungry, you can't think about anything else, and once you've satisfied that you have to think about where you will live and how to get counselling for trauma. Only then will you be able to think about a job."
Natasha Attard, 22, slept rough after running away from home at the age of 15. Now she lives in single-parent accommodation at Windsor, in Brisbane's north. "It gets harder to survive on the streets every year because a lot of abandoned buildings have been demolished, which forces people to sleep under bridges and in parks," she said. "When I was living rough I stayed in a group for safety. The streets are a dangerous place at night."
Queensland-based NYC commissioner Father Wally Dethlefs said early intervention and finding ways to reconnect young people with their families was the best way to reduce youth homelessness. "Turn off the tap of homelessness by doing the prevention stuff. Until we do that it's going to get worse and worse." The NYC inquiry held 21 days of hearings nationwide and heard evidence from 319 witnesses as well as receiving 91 written submissions.
PAUL MOULDS began working with homeless people more than 20 years ago, before the 1989 Burdekin Inquiry into youth homelessness. Since then, the number of homeless teenagers has doubled in Australia.
Of the 100,000 people whom the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates are homeless each night, about 36,000 are thought to be under the age of 25 and 10,000 under 12. Every night, one in two young people who seeks support accommodation will be turned away.
"The faces change but the stories I hear are the same," Captain Moulds, the director of the Oasis Youth Support Network, said. "Torment, abuse, neglect - they were the same stories [20 years ago] but the figures just show we could do more."
Captain Moulds is one of many youth workers who gave evidence last year at the National Youth Commission's inquiry into youth homelessness. Its findings will be issued on Tuesday.
Since the hearings, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, pushed the issue of wider homelessness onto the political agenda in January. The Rudd Government's first white paper - to be prepared by Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Tony Nicholson - will deal with homelessness, for which $150 million was promised in the lead-up to the election.
"You can't put your finger on one thing," Captain Moulds said, of what caused homelessness. "Some people have mental health issues, some have family issues, some have fallen out of state care. It is not about material things; it is mainly about the quality of relationships in families - leaving, without the financial basis or the emotional basis."
Captain Moulds was 19 when he began as an outreach worker in Kings Cross and has run the Oasis Youth Support Network in Surry Hills for 12 years. In the two years that Sascha Ettinger Epstein spent making a documentary about the program at Oasis, to be aired on ABC1 on Thursday, she said she struggled to comprehend his optimism and support for children straying from his programs.
"There is a massive emotional void in the kids' lives and they look for someone who is going to be there consistently," she said. "Paul is worse than the Energizer Bunny. He just perpetually has empathy: that unconditional love that you just want from a parent."
Her assessment was true for Beau Berry-Porter, who became homeless when he was about 13 and credits Captain Moulds for the stable housing in which he now lives. Though he left home thinking he could look after himself, last year he suffered a psychotic episode and he says the decision to leave is not one children can properly make.
"You can grow up but your priorities change," he said. "You can't have the successful life of a job and a family and those things. But once you get that stable accommodation you can focus on those other things."
Figures released in a new inquiry show Australia's homeless youth crisis has doubled over the past 20 years, with 22,000 teenagers sleeping on the streets every night.
Australia's Homeless Youth Report, from the National Youth Commission, claims that of Australia's 100,000 people that are homeless on any given night, more than a third are aged 12-25.
But just a big a problem is the lack services available to the homeless.
The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) services can only provide 14 per cent a bed on any given night, with one in two young people turned away because services are already overfull.
"It is a national disgrace that there are twice as many homeless young Australians now than in 1989 when the Human Right Commission undertook its landmark inquiry," David MacKenzie of the National Youth Commission said.
"No young person should be should be homeless in a country as prosperous as Australia."
The independent report is aiming to jolt both the government and communities into action to take on what is becoming a perpetuating problem, with the current housing affordability situation threatening to force even more onto the streets.
"The way we respond to the needs of our most vulnerable and marginalised is a litmus test for the health of our community," Ian Darling, chairman of the philanthropic Caledonia Foundation, said at the launch of the inquiry last year.
"Our homeless youth deserve a dignified, whole-of-community response.
The report identified four main objectives to help the eradication of youth homelessness: prevention, intervention, supporting young people in need and stopping those assisted from falling back into homelessness.
It also suggested a National Homelessness Strategy and Action Plan be developed and implemented to set our goals in the fight and reach them.
"A total investment of around $100 million in new funding is needed in the first three years," the report said in conclusion. "Beyond that the rate of expenditure will need to increase by approximately $20 million each year, for at least 10 years."
That figure will equate to $1 billion in funding required over the next decade.
"The onus doesn't lie with governments alone — we all have a role to play," Mr Darling said. "Government support, joined with the strategic private assistance of philanthropic foundations and corporations, will be imperative to achieving our ambitious goal of eradicating youth homelessness in Australia."
Youth homelessness has doubled in the past 20 years and it will take at least $300 million to fix the problem, a national inquiry has revealed.
The number of homeless teenagers aged 12 to 18 has doubled to 22,000 in the last two decades, according to the National Youth Commission's (NYC) Australia's Homeless Youth report released.
In total at least 36,000 young people under 25 are homeless on any given night.
NYC commissioner Associate Professor David MacKenzie says the figures are a "national disgrace".
"We haven't been doing anything much to prevent homelessness," Swinburne University's Prof MacKenzie told AAP.
"We need to work on this with the same sort of determination we're now starting to work on water (issues) and climate change."
The problem is so severe that 50 per cent of young people seeking a bed in supported accommodation are turned away because services are full.
The commission held 21 separate hearings across the country and received 91 written submissions.
The report's release comes almost 20 years after the last national inquiry into youth homelessness conducted by then Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin in 1989.
"It has got worse," Prof MacKenzie said.
"Things are perhaps better for a lot of people but for homeless young people the drivers and causes of homelessness have actually escalated."
That includes family breakdown, a reduction in public housing and the housing affordability crisis.
Almost 50 per cent of homeless youth seeking crisis accommodation told the commission a relationship breakdown with parents or step-parents was the main reason for their homelessness.
Financial difficulty was cited by 32 per cent of youths.
The report lays out a road map to solve the problem with a focus on early intervention and prevention.
But that will cost money - $100 million in the first term of the Rudd government and an additional $20 million every year for 10 years after that.
"It sounds a lot but the cost of not doing it is probably of that order every year," Prof MacKenzie said.
In fact, the report suggests the net benefit of early intervention is close to $900 million.
That's because keeping young people at home and in school reduces the public outlay on mental health care, drug and alcohol programs and the criminal justice system.
Labour market productivity would also improve.
NYC commissioner Reverend Wally Dethlefs was also a commissioner on the Burdekin inquiry.
He is disheartened that youth homelessness has gotten worse since then.
"It's just slipped off the national agenda," Rev Dethlefs, a Catholic priest based in Brisbane, said.
"One 11-year-old girl said to me `I am a nothing, I am a nobody. It doesn't matter what anybody does to me or what I do to anybody else.'
"That's the despair."
Rev Dethlefs says the Howard government's Reconnect program has been a shining light in facilitating family reconciliation but its spread is "patchy".
The report recommends Reconnect's budget be trebled from $23 million annually to more than $60 million.
The NYC also recommends a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry be established into state care after "serious issues" were raised about the treatment of young people.
The commission was funded by the Caledonia Foundation, a philanthropic project of the Sydney-based Caledonia Investments Group.
A man who spent five years living on the streets says Australia should act now to put services in place to protect and help homeless young people.
Beau Berry-Porter, 27, says he was 16 when he left home - 10 years after the Burdekin report was conducted.
On the street, Mr Berry-Porter was introduced to drugs and drug production, was abused and tried to commit suicide.
His bipolar condition went untreated for years.
It wasn't until he was 22 that he found shelter in the Salvation Army's Oasis Youth Support Network centre.
"Like so many kids, I left with one problem but ended up with much bigger problems - more trauma, more pain and more anger," he told people at the report's launch.
"I needed someone to talk to, to look out for me, to advocate for me and to journey with me.
"I'm one of the lucky ones, I found a place and people who would do that.
"Beneath the anger they saw a person with potential."
Mr Berry-Porter has called on Australia to recognise that homeless youths are just those who have not had the benefit of a family to provide for them.
He asked Australia not to give up on them, saying they are "worth investing in".
"Usually your family provides that support or nurturing, but when they can't or won't - who will?" he said.
"Australia, don't give up on your young people ... don't put them in the too-hard basket.
"Please put in place the type of services that will welcome us even when we are angry and difficult.
"Please help us to find new pathways to new futures.
"We could add so much to the community, we are worth investing in."
The Salvation Army's Major David Eldridge, chairman of the NYC, said the report laid out the 10-point road plan to halve the rate of youth homelessness over the next decade and refocus the nation's attention on a major social issue.
He describes the issue of youth homelessness as a "daily tragedy" but one that inspires fear in some Australians.
"For some Australians, young homeless people are viewed with suspicion or even feared, but that doesn't accurately reflect the tragedy and complexity (of the problem)," he said.
"The time to act is now."
Nearly 40,000 young people are homeless across the country each night, writes Erik Jensen.
John wakes in the passageway where he has slept for the past week - feet cold without shoes and his eyes aching from the florescent lights he cannot switch off, from the nervous half-sleep of the street. The packet of sultanas he pulls from his bag is breakfast. "Like school," he says. "Little lunch."
John has been homeless, on and off, since he was eight. He is one of 36,000 young people deemed homeless across the country each night - part of a minority who sleep on the streets, with most finding their way onto couches or into refuges.
John has reached a point of chronic homelessness that the National Youth Commission's Inquiry into Youth Homelessness, published today, says can be ended by exit strategies and post-vention support.
The report, commissioned by the Caledonia Foundation, found that about $1 billion in funding was needed to break the youth homelessness cycle over the next decade. It says that even though the number of homeless youth has doubled since the Burdekin inquiry in 1989, intervention programs are working and the issue is at a point where the high numbers of homeless children can be slashed.
Young people from the refuge where John once stayed, before he was ejected after a violent outburst, come down a little later. They bring him a cup of tea and cannabis for the first bong of the morning.
"I see myself - not this year, but in longer years - to get what I want," John says just after 2am, walking the streets to stay awake. "First thing is a house, living simple, just a family. A house, for me, is for a family [but] I haven't lived in a house for ages."
The goals form a common checklist among homeless youth - lists that centre on minor details, fragments remembered from childhood.
Laura has been homeless since she was 13. She was watching television when she asked why her family was so different and says her mother told her to leave that night. A year later she was in rehabilitation.
She has three wishes. "A clean house," she says, while waiting to obtain drugs outside a mens' shelter. "A kitchen that's got food in the fridge - and juice. That's what I remember about a normal home."
For Jim, who has been homeless since he fled an abusive stepfather at 12, the list also includes a wife and car. "And give me a dog, a staffy," he says.
"I want to be normal, aye."
Carpet is another feature on the list. So, too, are children. Each of these young people are certain they will have a house one day. They do not identify with the older people sleeping on the street - they would never eat from a bin, for instance. They talk about a paradox in which they cannot get housing until they stop using drugs but cannot stop using while they remain on the streets.
The inquiry heard drug use among homeless youth has increased in the past 20 years. The type of drugs used has also changed with the wider availability of stimulants such as ice. Reasons for use centre on self-medication and contact with other users on the streets. Two-thirds of problem users developed their habit once they became homeless, and access to detoxification programs remains limited.
A group of boys smokes ice in the alley where John sleeps, the crystals coaxed into vapour by a Zippo flame. "To stay awake," they explain. "Everyone we know's been bashed when they sleep."
A 16-year-old girl sucks butane gas from a canister designed to refill cigarette lighters. She is sleeping on a mattress beside a dumpster in Darlinghurst and says the gas is to stay warm. "It makes your tongue feel like its fallen down your throat, though."
On Saturday morning the Crown Street cafes whir into action - laughter and sundresses, plates heaped with food. A group of homeless young people stand on the corner asking for money - "coal biting", they call it. After an hour they have nothing. People walk past, waving them off. It is the ones who ignore them that cause the frustration.
"Of course I envy them," a boy says as he walks past a cafe. "Sometimes I just want to jam [stab] the c---s, you know, but then I just forget about it."
These young people exist in a sub-community where the key influence is each other. Within days of being on the street, they feel invisible - people look away, ignore them as they walk past. Other young people become the main socialising factor, with the majority of children becoming homeless as the result of family breakdown and disconnection with parents.
"That aspect of my life had become so ingrained into my identity that that's all that I identified with then," a young woman told the inquiry in Brisbane.
Later John picks up some classified ads. He circles two jobs with his finger - for a cabinet maker and an apprentice butcher. He reads the job requirements aloud, slowly and to himself, then folds the paper into his bag.
Later, while window washing, four boys walk past and ask for paper. They want something to chop cannabis on. John hands over the classifieds. When they leave, he jumps into the nook where they were smoking. He pokes through the used foils and finds the paper, folds it and returns it to his bag.
There is a different economy on the street. Most of the young people receive a fortnightly youth allowance of about $300. For those in shelters, half goes on rent and the other half is spent within a day. "When it's like this, you wish you saved some pay," an 18-year-old boy says, washing windows in Paddington. "But you never do - you can't. Everyone wants money and it's the same when they have money. They shout you and you shout them."
Everything is shared among the homeless - hands are open and there is no hope of saving money. Once the pension runs out, money can be made window washing. Others speak of being paid to ferry drugs into prison. Some deal cannabis - they can make about $150 a day - but must first have money. There are drug dealers, a boy says, who will walk through a street and show you what they want and give you drugs once you have stolen it for them.
The simple way of getting money, however, is to beg. When that fails, some homeless youth say they would rob people. The inquiry heard only a minority turned to crime and usually only after the children have been victims of it. "When you buy the food [after robbing someone], you feel sorry," a boy says.
"You know why you did it, but that's not the way you want to do it."
Much of the crime relates to the necessities of homelessness, the report says, noting how inevitable behaviours are criminalised by laws against loitering or begging. These actions are part of a complex series of behaviours learned through homelessness and often inflicted through circumstance. No one chooses to be homeless, the inquiry heard.
In a squat near Central Station a vandalised cavity off a stairwell, John gives over his classified again. The cannabis is chopped once more, but this time John has a smoke. An hour later, 9pm, the group disperses. A resident has said he will call the police if they do not. The paper, with its job prospects, are left behind.
YOUNG AND VULNERABLE
"I left home because my mother and I were constantly arguing. I was having a hard time and became quite depressed. My mother was an ex-drug addict and she had a few issues that I could not cope with, the pressure was too much."
"I left home just after my 15th birthday. My mum was suffering from depression at the time I was kicked out. She had previously kicked out my other siblings, which included a sister younger than myself. I wish I had never been kicked out "
"Originally I moved out with my mum and then I moved in with my dad then I was playing up a bit with my stepmum so I moved in with Mum, playing up there as well been a bad boy basically."
"My father and stepmother believed I wouldn't be gay if they knocked it out of me and quite literally used to slam my head against the wall. It gave me a headache but I'm still gay."
"Well, my housing crisis situation all started when my mum passed away."
"Mum has bipolar and totally has hated me since I was three and my sister was born, and my dad is a violent alcoholic and I don't have friends that will let me stay with them. I now live with Nan, but it's like a prison."
"Left home when 15 years old - kicked out for drugs [marijuana] and adolescent problems. Anger and confusion over what you were meant to be doing."
"The price of private rentals is too high and they don't usually accept you anyway. I feel embarrassed about being homeless because you get dirty looks and many people never seem to understand."
"Being so young with no home, I had no money, no bed, no clothes, wasn't able to bathe or eat and drink."
"The feeling of hopelessness, like you're not worth anything, you feel like giving up, like it's not worth it."
From Australia's Homeless Youth
The ordeal of couch-surfing is over for one former runaway, writes Adele Horin. IT WAS not until Renae Parkinson was about 14 that her father's sudden departure from the family six years earlier hit her with crushing intensity. She took her anger out on her mother who had been left to raise two young children on her own. "I was close to him, and I was devastated, and I ended up taking it out on Mum," she said. She ran away from home and, like most young homeless people, began a career of "couch-surfing", moving from one friend's house to another. "I hated it. Every afternoon I'd worry where I'd be going to stay tonight, what if the friend's parents said 'you can't stay here'," she said. "I had to cart my stuff with me." She was living in a youth refuge and wagging school when a worried school principal put her in touch with the Reconnect program run by the Southern Youth and Family Services, based in Wollongong. It is a federally-funded program that aims to prevent youth homelessness or help homeless young people reconcile with their families, and keep them engaged in school or work. A 2003 evaluation of the program - 98 services are operating around Australia - showed it had been highly successful, with 75 per cent of the young people and their families reporting an improvement in their situation. The National Youth Commission has recommended its funding of $23 million be trebled to reach more at-risk children. Parkinson, now 21, said the counselling she and her mother received, and the help to attend school, was invaluable. She was encouraged to talk about what was going on in her emotional life, her depression, and her idea of herself as a "daddy's girl". She felt her mother did not love her. But her mother never gave up and eventually Parkinson, with the counsellor's help, understood how wrong she had been. "They helped me work my way back home," Parkinson said, "and they followed up once I was back there. Me and my mum have a good relationship now. I feel like my mother is my best friend now and I would not have that relationship without the service to help me."
TEENAGERS Hope Walter and Alyssa Coulter live in different cities but their fractured lives run parallel.
For Alyssa Coulter, 18, life has improved but she remains estranged from her family.
Like so many in their world there is the inevitable broken home, furious arguments with a parent or step-parent, an ultimatum, then the deep trauma of becoming one of Australia's growing number of homeless youth.
For many of the nation's bleak army of 22,000 teenage homeless, a path out seems unattainable. But after years of despair living among some of the nation's most marginalised, there is at least a ray of light for 19-year-old Hope from Melbourne, who has recently moved back home with her mother, and for Sydney's Alyssa, 18, trying for a high school education and permanent accommodation.
They may end up two of the lucky ones, but their stories remain grim. Both talk of feelings of utter worthlessness as they dossed on friends' sofas and slept rough before finding support services.
Hope recalls the "massive fight" she had at 17 with her father about her new boyfriend, who was homeless. "He said I had to make a choice, him or my boyfriend, so I ended up on the streets," Hope says. "At first we slept in Flagstaff gardens and then for quite a few months on the porch of a bowls club. "The people who ran the bowls club were kind. They lent us one of those big gas heater things so we could keep warm."
Alyssa's descent into the murky world of teenage homelessness came earlier.
"I moved out from my mum and stepdad at 13. My parents drank and there was domestic violence. I don't why I was singled out but I got pushed out of the family," she says. "I went to one of my mates and lived on the couch for a month. Then I was on the streets for a year, sleeping inside food trolleys in a park.
"When I lived on the street I was stealing cars and stuff, using drugs, heroin. I felt like I was worthless, that no one really cared, and every day was just another day to survive.
"But there was also a funny little family of us street kids."
These two young women are emblematic of young homeless nationwide, according to a critical new report entitled Australia's Homeless Youth, to be released by the National Youth Commission today.
"Almost half of homeless youth who sought help from (emergency accommodation services) said that relationship breakdown with parents or step-parents was the main reason for their homelessness," the report notes.
Funded by the Caledonia Foundation, a benevolent group dedicated to the sustainability of young Australians, the report is only the second to be conducted independently of government. After conducting hearings in all states and territories during the past year, including taking evidence from 319 individuals and participating in four policy forums, it concludes that Australia is falling significantly short in its duty of care towards the nation's most vulnerable.
Since the first independent report, Brian Burdekin's seminal 1989 study Our Homeless Children, the number of teenage homeless has doubled to 22,000. Of the 100,000 homeless Australians on any given night, 36 per cent are 25 or younger, a far cry from the stereotype of the old wino under the bridge. Many are products of the state care system.
Of the young people seeking a bed in emergency accommodation, only one in every two will sleep in sheets.
NYC commissioner David Mackenzie, an associate professor at Swinburne University's Institute for Social Research, says the statistics are unacceptable given the good economic conditions since the 1990s.
"Since Burdekin, the numbers of homeless young people has pretty much doubled," Mackenzie says. "The irony is that in that time we've had improving prosperity, a strong economy, unemployment has come down markedly in an improving labour market. It's very sobering."
Mackenzie points out 22,000 teenagers aren't all living in alleys and on park benches across the country. The definition of homelessness including those "couch surfing" with friends or acquaintances or in boarding houses without security of tenure.
The inquiry found young people quickly lose connection with mainstream society when they become homeless, which is why bolstering early intervention programs is crucial among the NYC's recommendations.
NYC commissioner Wally Dethlefs, a Brisbane Catholic priest who has worked with the homeless for 35 years, says more young homeless people suffer a complex range of issues compared with 20 years ago.
"I'm talking about young people excluded from schools, with mental health problems, in contact with juvenile justice and child protection systems and dealing with drug and alcohol problems," Dethlefs says.
"Some young people, a lot more than there used to be, have all these issues at once. And mental health issues have come far more to the fore in recent times. At the time of Burdekin, it was thought homelessness may cause mental health problems for younger people, but I'd say that is definite now."
The report finds there's a high cost to society in failing to deal promptly with the symptoms and effects of youth homelessness, in the order of $474 million a year.
"Think already of the increased security around homes, the higher insurance premiums people must deal with, the extra police required, the greater load placed on the court system and on the jails," Dethlefs says. "All of that will worsen if we don't deal with that issue now."
Burdekin addressed this issue in launching the inquiry in March last year. "One of the hardest things we had to do in the original report was to convince government, the pragmatists, the bean counters in Treasury and finance that the costs of not addressing the issues are much higher than the costs of having appropriate policy settings."
The new NYC report sets out a platform for reform, calling on government to provide an additional $1 billion through 10 years to provide additional housing for young homeless people, bolster existing early intervention programs that work well but remain too thin on the ground, and implement other youth services in areas including employment and health. It may find a receptive ear in Kevin Rudd, who has become a champion of the homeless since taking over as Prime Minister. During the election campaign he quietly visited several homeless shelters, and one of his first acts in government was to demand all his MPs do likewise. During the election he pledged $150 million for the creation of new places in crisis shelters.
In January, Rudd announced a white paper canvassing long-term options to reduce the homeless problem during the next decade, putting one of the nation's most experienced welfare advocates, Brotherhood of St Laurence head Tony Nicholson, in charge.
"I don't want to live in a country where we simply discard people," Rudd said at the time. "I don't want to live in a country where we accept people begging on the streets is somehow acceptable to the Australian way of life."
The NYC report says while relationship breakdown with parents is the prime cause of youth homelessness, many remain homeless because they can't make the transition from emergency or medium-term accommodation into the long-term rental market. It also launches into a trenchant criticism of the state care system and calls for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to launch a federal inquiry into the system.
"One-third of young people leaving state care are case-managed into homelessness services, highlighting the inadequacy of the leaving care process," the report finds. "A recent study reported that 42 per cent of homeless adults in (emergency accommodation) had been in state care and protection programs when they were young. The fact that years later so many are in adult homelessness services demonstrates that the system has failed many young people."
The report also demands a trebling of the funding for the successful early intervention Reconnect program that began in 2001 (and has led to a significant drop in teen homeless since that date, according to the NYC report).
After living with her boyfriend in a crowded boarding house organised through the Frontyard youth service in Melbourne, Hope's relationship with her boyfriend ended. "We used to fight all the time, living together in that atmosphere," she says.
She credits her turnaround to resisting drugs during her time among the homeless and to the numerous counsellors that saw her through that bleak time. "Without that I don't know where I'd be, but I know I got a lot of good advice about how to rebuild my relationships with my parents. I'm living with Mum and I'm on good terms with Dad so I can go to his house, which is near the city, if I get stuck in town late at night," she says.
Alyssa has no apparent road back to her family. "It was really hard to give up heroin, I'd get off for a couple of days, then go back, then (get off) for a couple of weeks, then go back. But I'm never going back now," she says. She is living at the Oasis youth centre in Sydney's Surry Hills and doing Year 11 at its accredited course. "I did (years) 8, 9 and 10 in two years," she says. "I'm also getting close to having my own apartment, too, so if that comes off, it'd be great."
The girls, similar to the other young homeless men and women to whom The Australian spoke, who are working their way through the system, are inordinately fragile and incredibly resilient. The NYC report, and the experience of the commissioners who listened to all the evidence across the country, makes it clear these young people need government and community support.
VULNERABLE AND MARGINALISED
"There's no doubt these are tough kids. They come from tough backgrounds and they're tough to deal with. They've got mental health issues, they've got drug and alcohol addictions, some of them have spent their whole lives in state care, some of them have been abused, some tortured, some neglected badly. But because they're tough kids doesn't mean we should put them in the too hard basket and believe that nothing can ever change." Paul Moulds, Salvation Army
"There is absolutely no excuse for us to be in a situation where we can talk about national policies on water and the environment but we can't talk about some sort of co-ordinated and effective national policy for the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalised people in our own community." Brian Burdekin, National Inquiry into Youth Homelessness in 1989 author
"The way we respond to the needs of ourmost vulnerable and marginalised is a litmus test for the health of our community. For too long we have sidelined the plight of Australia's homeless youth, hoping perhaps that they would somehow disappear." Ian Darling, Caledonia Foundation chairman
"Apart from the practical discomfort of moving around, experiencing homelessness is emotional hell. Homeless young people feel scared, frustrated, embarrassed, helpless and vulnerable. Seen as different from other young people, they have a growing sense that there is no hope for them; they become depressed, angry or both. They yearn for what everyone else takes for granted: a place to belong and people who care for them."
David Eldridge, National Youth Commission chairman
Over 20 years ago Commissioner Brian Burdekin of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission launched an inquiry into youth homelessness in Australia. For two years Brian Burdekin and his fellow Commissioners, Jan Carter and Fr. Wally Dethlefs, travelled the country conducting hearings where young people, their parents and youth workers told grim stories about the everyday experiences of young homeless people. Burdekin’s report, “Our Homeless Children”, and his continuing campaigning to improve in the lives of homeless young people, had a huge impact on both community and government perceptions of homelessness. However, according to the latest statistics from researchers, twenty years after the Burdekin Inquiry the number of homeless teenagers has doubled to 22,000. How can this have happened? The Australian economy has strengthened, with consistently low levels of unemployment and large budget surpluses. Why have we not been able to curb this escalation in the number of young people living without appropriate family or community support? A National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Homelessness (NYC) was established in 2007 in order to find answers to these questions and most importantly to develop solutions. The NYC, an independent community inquiry funded by the Caledonia Foundation, conducted 21 days of hearings in all States and Territories, heard evidence from 319 individuals, received 91 written submissions and held four policy forums. The NYC report, ‘Australia’s Homeless Youth’, was launched today and it presents a ten point Roadmap for Youth Homelessness which outlines an approach that will change the face of youth homelessness in Australia forever. Evidence given to the NYC highlighted the diversity of youth homelessness. For some Australians, young homeless young people are viewed with suspicion and even fear - the aggressive beggar on the street, the young ‘dole bludger’, ‘street kids’ stealing or prostituting themselves for drugs. These are images that often find their way into media reports. They do not accurately reflect the complexity or tragedy of the real-life experiences of homeless young people. Youth homelessness in Australia is not only about street homelessness or ‘rough sleeping’. The Burdekin Report, and a considerable body of subsequent research, has broadened our understanding of the situation of our homeless young people. We know that many have shelter but no safety from abuse, or real security. They live for short periods with friends and acquaintances, at refuges and supported accommodation services, in unsafe boarding houses, squats and sometimes on the street. Transience is the norm and uncertainty about where ‘home’ is creates a shaky foundation for continuing education, employment and connection to community support. My own participation on the NYC was a deeply moving experience. Young people gave emotional and challenging evidence. Their honesty and resilience is uplifting but what has happened to them is an indictment of our corporate neglect of children and young people. I was also encouraged by evidence from youth workers who daily struggle in under-resourced services to meet the needs of these at-risk young people. A number of workers who appeared before the NYC had previously given evidence at the 1989 Burdekin Inquiry and their continuing commitment to homeless young people was an inspiration. Why is youth homelessness worse today than 20 years ago? Well, there are a number of key drivers of youth homelessness and relatively little has been done to deal with these root causes. One is family conflict. All families experience tension and conflict of some form. Marital stress, divorce, the introduction of a step-parent, domestic violence, parental drug use, poverty and long-term unemployment can all contribute to seemingly irreconcilable breakdowns within some families. A direct result for many young people is temporary or permanent homelessness. The experience of the Commonwealth-funded Reconnect Program, over recent years, has proved that early intervention into family conflict and early home leaving can prevent young people leaving home. Yet, only one third of the country has access to a Reconnect Program. We also know that young people who have been in State Care are over-represented amongst the chronically homeless. Unfortunately, many who are abused or neglected at home, or have lived transient lives with their families, continue to experience inadequate support and multiple placements within State Care systems. The number of notifications of risk has risen steeply in recent years and if nothing is done this will inevitably flow on to a growth in the number of young people at-risk of long-term homelessness. Young people receive lower income support payments than adults and if they are working they receive a lower wage. Yet, there are no rental discounts for young people. Their housing costs are the same as everyone else. Young people are already disadvantaged in the housing market and the present housing affordability crisis makes it virtually impossible for them to gain a secure foothold. Public and community housing has not increased to meet demand. Young people experiencing a housing crisis have nowhere to go except crisis accommodation services, tragically, half of those seeking access to these services each night cannot be accommodated. The Rudd Government has identified homelessness as a key policy area for their first term and initiated a policy process involving a Green paper for discussion and a White Paper in August to set out the Government’s plans. This is very positive. The National Youth Commission Report’s Roadmap For Youth Homelessness highlights 10 “must do” strategic areas for attacking youth homelessness in Australia and provides a base of strong evidence for what to do about youth homelessness within the broader Government response to homelessness. The challenge for Government will be to create a truly national plan of action involving the states and the Commonwealth, with targets based on real need and strong accountability. Youth homelessness cannot be solved overnight, but it can be solved if the right policies are implemented and properly resourced over five, ten, and the next twenty years. Let’s make youth homelessness a topic for historical analysis rather than a daily tragedy in the lives of many Australian young people and their families.
The chaotic and turbulent world of the streets is no place for young teenagers - yet every year kids who can no longer live at home and fall through safety nets end up adrift in this urban wilderness.
Within the first week of my immersion at Oasis, a Salvation Army refuge in inner city Sydney, with co-director Ian Darling I witnessed the bashing of a 15-year old girl and realised no one is exempt from the aggression and volatility of street culture. Another young girl nearly lost her leg when she was randomly stabbed by a friend suffering an ice-induced psychosis, who then tried to apologise for his unprovoked attack.
Turned away from underresourced services, kids as young as 12 routinely spend nights trawling through parks, squats and abandoned buildings, mingling in food-van queues exposed to the elements and myriad dangers. Others pool their welfare money to pay extortionate rents and cram top to toe into tiny roach-infested rooms in boarding houses, only to be evicted back into the night for noise complaints.
The pursuit of drugs to block out reality becomes a way of life. It is difficult for most to understand how kids this young, living through what is traditionally cherished as the most blissful stage of life, already find life so bleak that their only interest is getting "off their face". What people don't know is the sheer horror of what many of them have already experienced, even as pre-pubescents. One 19-year-old had already learnt by the age of five to call an ambulance to revive her father from a heroin overdose and recalled how her mother had committed suicide in front of her at eight.
Such past traumas and the ensuing deeply internalised sense of worthlessness create a kind of fatalistic paralysis which stops many of these kids from even hoping to improve their lives. They are resigned to failure and turn to the short-term escapism of drugs and booze to avoid the problems of immediate reality and dull the hurt. They don't have the foresight to realise that when the high wears off they will feel even worse and the problems will still be there to deal with.
Many do themselves irreparable physical and psychological damage when they spiral into chronic drug addiction and make themselves vulnerable to street predators and terrible situations in order to get drugs. They rub off on each other badly too, especially at such an impressionable age. Girls who have never even smoked a cigarette can descend into heavy injecting of drugs within a few months of bad influence. The financial burden of an expensive drug habit can eventually necessitate prostitution.
The downhill slide can be rapid, so it is imperative to act quickly and whisk these kids to safety or intervene in their lives as early as possible.
While the film Oasis puts a face to the statistics, the National Youth Commission inquiry, funded by the Caledonia Foundation and released this week, provides a road map for what can be done.
Probably the most important issue to tackle is the intergenerational cycle of poverty and dysfunction which perpetuates and intensifies with every baby born. With the prevalence of drugs, lowered inhibition and the natural fertility of young girls, pregnancy is rife among the children of the street.
And the desire of young mothers-to-be to fill their own gaping emotional void dwarfs any fear of the hardships of raising a child.
The birth of their own offspring who represent the hope of new life and innocence is often ultimately marred by the fact that the child will face a life of disadvantage in a perpetuation of the cycle its parents are already part of. Some babies are already disadvantaged at birth, affected by the poor diet or drugs and alcohol their mother's body passed on to them.
The most valuable lesson we can learn from scrutinising the fraught lives of the kids of the streets at Oasis is not to pre-judge people. Meeting the most dishevelled, downtrodden young person, or the toughest looking thug, you can never be sure what kind of person they are below the surface or what kind of life they have lived.
These kids are largely the product of shocking misfortune and their bad circumstances are only exacerbated by the dangerous lifestyles they lead. Many people in society write them off as scum and welfare parasites but often they are far more victims than perpetrators. The public really fails to understand the imminent danger of doing nothing to help them. To go for the jugular, your cars, your property, your own children will not be safe if kids who have been abused and abandoned are left to go feral on the streets with no one to care for them.
IAN Darling believes documentaries have the power to influence social change.
The producer and co-director of the feature length documentary The Oasis (which screens tonight on ABC1) also chairs a new philanthropic initiative to develop more documentaries focusing on social issues. The broadcast of The Oasis, which follows Salvation Army captain Paul Moulds as he tries to help homeless youth at the Oasis Centre in inner Sydney, follows this week's release of the National Youth Commission's report Australia's Homeless Youth.
The issue has been embraced by the national broadcaster: ABC1 will air a 40-minute panel discussion called The Forum with Tony Jones (featuring some of the people in the documentary) immediately after The Oasis; that program will also be webcast on abc.net.au and ABC774 will simulcast the program into Melbourne.
Mr Darling hoped similar documentaries would emerge from the Documentary Australia Foundation, which was launched last November to encourage charitable foundations to fund social issue-based documentaries.
Mr Darling said the group had been swamped with ideas and already had more than 100 documentary concepts that had passed its approval process. Now DAF is educating charitable foundations about how documentaries can inspire social change.
"We have learned from the US that foundations are happy to support documentaries if the films are about the same sort of issues (that) they support," he said.
One notable example was former eBay president Jeff Skoll's Skoll Foundation as a major backer of Al Gore's climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which put the issue of climate change on the global political agenda. Mr Darling said the Skoll Foundation's return on social capital was well ahead of its many other funding options. "It's this sort of thing we are trying to encourage here so we create a new sustainable funding stream for these documentaries," he said.
Mr Darling said philanthropically funded documentaries were virtually non-existent in Australia. "Traditionally, grant makers have not wanted to support media," he said.
"But the sorts of films that happen in the US can be five minutes long, for use in schools, or at the other end of the scale they can be films which are made for cinema release."
The makers of The Oasis hope to awaken Australians to the immense problem of youth homelessness in this country.
The 75-minute documentary, co-directed by Sasha Ettinger Epstein, was jointly funded by the ABC and Mr Darling's company Shark Island Productions. Mr Darling also chairs the Caledonia Foundation, which will deliver a free copy of the DVD and a study guide on the subject to every secondary school in Australia.
The Caledonia Foundation, which seeks to support disadvantaged young Australians, also funded the National Youth Commission report. "While it (The Oasis) was putting a face to youth homelessness, we realised that to really get the community and government to embrace the issue we needed a factual account of what was happening out there," Mr Darling said.
The report was prepared by a group of independent experts who also made numerous recommendations on how the problems should be fixed. The Rudd Government is due to release its initial response to the report at the end of April and a larger response in August.
"But the Government can't do it alone and the community needs to get behind the issue," Mr Darling said. "Coming back to An Inconvenient Truth, it was people power that made the difference to the environmental debate, and I'm hoping the same thing happens with youth homelessness."
Mr Darling said the problem had now become a "national disgrace", with the number of kids on the street doubling in the past 20 years to an estimated 40,000. "And that has happened at a time of record economic prosperity ... so we are hoping the power of the medium will play a large role in this," he said.
"We hope the community has the courage to watch this and to keep the issue on the agenda."
The 75-minute documentary was co-directed by Sasha Ettinger Epstein.
April 10, 2008
IN government television campaigns, just saying no to drugs is a simple business, an easy decision made by well-fed, well-clothed young people who just want to have a good time.
"Hmmm. Friday night again. It's tempting to try ice, but picking imaginary scabs in nightclub toilets doesn't really go with my new flamingo zippered leggings (heroin chic is so last century). I know, I'll go bowling and have a couple of shandies instead."
In the real world, or at least the world depicted in an extraordinary new documentary, The Oasis, suggesting it's simple to just say no to drugs is a joke.
"Hmmm. Tuesday morning again. It's tempting to spend a couple of hours straight, but that'll mean dwelling on the fact that Mum was a junkie hooker, Dad flogged me to a pulp and now I sleep on a vomit and faeces-smeared footpath. I know: I'll inject some more heroin into what's left of my 17-year-old veins in the hope that for a few lousy hours I'll get to feel like I'm dead."
There are no justs when it comes to saying no to numbing substances under these circumstances. There are rock bottoms so far down they'd give you vertigo. There are deprivations we in zippered legging land couldn't possibly imagine. There is Everest upon Everest upon Everest.
Just say no? Just say no? Yeah, right. And all we need for peace in the Middle East is for the Arabs and the Israelis to just get along.
The Oasis, which charts two terrible years in the life of a Salvation Army youth refuge in inner Sydney, should be mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks youth homelessness and drug addiction are the results of stupid choices made by the weak-willed and overindulged. These kids' earliest memories are of beatings and brutalisations, of watching their parents shoot smack or do strangers for drug money.
Sure, they have choices about the way they live their lives. But to suggest these choices are the same as those available to kiddies who don't spend their formative years sleeping on alleyway mattresses is bullshit. Offensive, patronising, cop-out bullshit.
The other people who should have their eyelids pinned back Clockwork Orange-style in front of The Oasis are those moral campaigners who rail about the wickedness du jour while Australia's 22,000 homeless teens burn.
As Sydney's religious elite bicker about whether God hates homosexual High Court judge Michael Kirby, Paul Moulds of the Oasis Youth Support Network is bringing recovering drug addicts and their newborn babies into his home while he tries to find places with roofs for these terribly vulnerable new families to live.
He's sending cleaning crews to young people's flats so that when they get out of jail, detox or the asylum they don't walk straight back into the abyss.
He's attending junkie births and speaking at junkie funerals and buying street kids breakfast and driving them to court and deflecting psychotic rages and serving fried rice from the back of vans and never, ever giving up on anyone.
Moulds, an exemplar of the true Christian spirit, knows how ugly his abused and abusive charges look from the outside.
But he doesn't withdraw his support or compassion when yet again they fail to turn up for rehab or tell him they've finally found a quality boyfriend because this one smokes rather than injects ice.
"Every kid deserves a 13th chance," he shrugs with that gentle, generous smile. He sees potential in the people polite society dismisses as human detritus, accepting that salvation for these souls is simply doing a little better. And he steadfastly refuses to preach or judge: "We can throw our hands up in moral outrage and say this shouldn't be, this is wrong or else we can ..."
Ah yes, this magnificent man is king of the "or else we cans". If only more people would just say no to the lazy stereotypes and puffed-up indignation and join him in the church of actually making a difference.
DURING the day you walk over and through these young people's homes - they sleep on the footpath, under concrete staircases, in parks and deserted power stations.
The Herald Sun spent an evening on the streets with the Salvation Army to meet Melbourne's homeless youths. This is how the night unfolded.
7.30pm -- Coffees and a barbecue are served to more than 20 homeless young people and a handful of adults at the Salvation Army's Project 614 bus in the CBD.
The state-of-the-art mobile drop-in centre offers food, computer access and a safe place to hang out in the CBD four nights a week.
Up to 80 homeless youths visit the bus every night.
"Basically, we want to get to them before the drug dealers, pimps and boredom do," commanding officer Brendan Nottle said.
8.15pm -- A group of homeless teens discuss how they have resorted to begging, stealing and robbing people at knifepoint along the Yarra River to get enough money to afford food and housing.
Some are too young to receive the dole, and none have been successful at recent job applications.
Austin ran away from his Dandenong home two years ago when family fighting became too much.
Since then the aspiring actor has been sleeping on the street, spending occasional nights at friends' places.
"When I first started having to rob people I felt really guilty, but now it's just something I have to do to survive," Austin said.
"People don't even look at us when we ask for money. They think they're better than us.
"We're people too. We need money to eat and live, we just can't get it as easy as they can."
His mate Jimbo is on bail for armed robbery and "Scarface" talks about the hold-ups being a form of amusement on quiet nights.
"It's like, 'What are we doing tonight boys? Let's make some money'," Scarface said.
"Either that or we buy Panadol, grind it up and sell it as fake drugs."
8.45pm -- A young woman fights with her boyfriend on the street, upset after talking about her past drug use and recent miscarriage.
9.20pm -- Dave, in his mid-20s, proudly shows us "his bench" on the banks of the Yarra where he slept every night for a month and a half until recently finding emergency accommodation.
Across the river the Crown casino buildings fire up.
"On really cold nights I could feel those flames from here," Dave said.
"This place feels really safe to me. I was never mugged or moved on, but I'd wake up and stick my head up every half hour just to make sure."
10.15pm -- Outreach van offers coffees to two men who are intoxicated, presumably from heroin.
Will, 18, and Ozzie 20, are sleeping in a squat metres from a Melbourne sports ground.
"We were kicked out of the boarding house we were living in by the landlady this afternoon," Will said.
"But it was s--- anyway. We were paying $130 a week to sleep in a six-bedroom dorm, no food or bills included.
"We went to the St Kilda Sacred Heart City Mission but they had no room for us so we came here to sleep."
10.45pm -- The bus continues to squats near the Queen Victoria market, the State Library and known homeless hangouts in the CBD.
DESPITE living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, more than 36,000 young Australians will be sleeping on the streets tonight.
The National Youth Commission will today release results of the first independent national inquiry into youth homelessness in almost 20 years. In that time the number of homeless teens has doubled.
Each night, half the homeless youths who seek a bed in emergency accommodation are turned away because services are too full, the report revealed.
NYC commissioner Assoc Prof David MacKenzie angrily condemned the figures as a "national disgrace". "No young person should be homeless in a country as prosperous as Australia," Prof MacKenzie said. "Part of the economic surpluses from our prosperity needs to be used to eliminate homelessness."
The commission held 21 hearings across the country and received 91 submissions.
In interviews with homeless young people: ALMOST half said they were homeless because of trouble with parents or step-parents, often through abuse, blended families or death.
ONE in three said it was because of being unable to afford housing costs or find work.
SIX per cent cited problematic drug use or mental illness.
Homeless youth were much more likely to have alcohol and drug problems, mental illness and trouble with the law.
"Homeless people with mental illness is 44 per cent compared to 19 per cent in the general population," the report said. "A study in Victoria found police processed homeless young people at 10 times the rate of the general population."
The inquiry slams state care as failing youth, revealing four in 10 homeless youths grew up in state care, foster care or protection programs.
"The fact that years later so many are in adult homelessness services demonstrates the system has failed."
As a third of Australia's homeless are youths, the National Youth Commission recommended a third of the Government's $150 million A Place To Call Home strategy go towards youth housing.
It also calls for $100 million in new funding over three years, to a total of $1 billion in new funding over the next decade.
The Rudd Government will use today's launch to announce details of its package, which will allocate $29.53 million to build 118 new homes for Victoria's homeless.
But a spokesman for Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek said it was up to state governments to decide if the money would be for youth services.
REDUCING the alarming rates of youth homelessness will take a substantial government commitment, Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek says.
A new report has found that homelessness for youths aged between 12 and 18 across the country has doubled to 22,000 in the past 20 years.
At least 36,000 young people under 25 were homeless on any given night, a problem that would take at least $300 million to fix, according to the National Youth Commission's Australia's Homeless Youth report released today.
Ms Plibersek described the situation as a "national tragedy".
"It is incredible that after 17 straight years of economic growth, we are actually doing worse in many areas of homelessness ... it is ... a national tragedy," Ms Plibersek said on Channel 9.
"We have seen the number of these people, particularly families with children, actually increasing and we have to turn that around."
The problem would take a substantial financial commitment that would be outlined in a white paper on homelessness - due for release in September.
"It (the white paper) will talk about the sort of money we need then, but it will take a substantial commitment, we need to build more accommodation, we need better prevention services, we need better crisis services," Ms Plibersek said.
David Eldridge, who chaired the inquiry into homelessness, said the increase in numbers could be attributed to family breakdown, youth wages and the housing affordability crisis.
"Youth wages and housing affordability mean that the numbers of young homeless people has just grown," he said in ABC radio.
The report recommends a 10-point plan to halve youth homelessness during the next decade by focusing on early intervention and prevention.
It would cost the Federal Government $100 million during its first term.
"We know that with early intervention we can intervene in family breakdown and family conflict and keep young people at home," Mr Eldridge said.
The Government would focus on a number of issues including early intervention and stable housing, Ms Plibersek said.
The Government will announce today that it intends spending $150 million buying and building homes for the homeless.
AUSTRALIA'S booming economy and shrinking rental property market have done nothing to help youth homelessness, which has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, welfare workers said today.
As the first national inquiry into homeless youth in 20 years conducts its Sydney hearings, its interim report later this year is expected to criticise government programs designed to address the problem.
Welfare workers say the programs, even if implemented, fall well short of addressing dramatic changes in the challenges posed by homeless youth.
The National Youth Commission (NYC) Inquiry into Youth Homelessness is hosting forums with community groups in 14 cities, completing its six-week tour of Australia on May 4.
The 2001 Australian census reported that about 100,000 Australians were homeless, with up to 35,000 of those aged between 12 and 25.
NYC commissioners said the number had doubled since the 1989 Burdekin Inquiry into youth homelessness.
"The rental housing crisis is blocking up a system that was already blocked up and our people in services are pulling their hair out,'' NYC commissioner and Salvation Army officer David Eldridge said.
Decades ago, Australia opted to subsidise public housing for low-income individuals and families because low-cost rentals in the private market were readily available.
But Australia's ongoing, 14-year economic boom has left even the cheapest housing options out of reach to low-income earners.
Three in four people who try to obtain hostel accommodation are turned away, Major Eldridge said. In previous decades, youths in need of housing were in a temporary crisis but today's homeless, low-skilled youth are coming from the juvenile justice system, as former wards of the state and from families who cannot afford housing.
"Just a house isn't enough,'' Major Eldridge said. "But without a house, you're not going to do the education, the work stuff - it's the foundation for doing the other work.''
Fellow NYC commissioner and Swinburne University sociologist David McKenzie said homeless agencies participating in the forums were tired of innovative pilot programs from government that never grew into nationwide policies.
'' ... they might keep it going or they might add another one so you've got two when you need 50,'' Prof Mckenzie said.
He also said governments often failed to reinvigorate established programs in need of new ideas to better target today's homeless.
Once the NYC completes its national tour it will submit an interim report to the commonwealth and state governments with a national action plan to address Australia's youth homeless problem. A final report will be completed sometime next year.
Open Family Australia, a community organisation which helps street kids, called on Australians to think about homeless youth during National Youth Week, which concludes on April 22.
Why, despite decades of programs to address it, is the homelessness of youth chronic in Australia?
Last night the ABC screened The Oasis: Australia's Homeless Youth, a gripping documentary by Sascha Ettinger-Epstein and Ian Darling. The film, shot over two years, portrays the devastated lives of young people who live on our city streets.
At the centre of the cyclone of calamity and confusion stands the Salvation Army's Captain Paul Moulds. Models of almost Christ-like compassion and self-sacrifice, Moulds and his wife, Robbin, offer help to some of the weakest members of our community.
Cutting through the tortured complexity of these shattered young lives to identify the root cause, Captain Moulds states the obvious truth: "It is not about material things; it is mainly about the quality of relationships in families."
We are right to laud such people as urban heroes. But the sheer numbers of those deemed homeless in Australia each night - estimated at more than 46,000 under the age of 25 - demand a larger response. This week the National Youth Commission outlined 10 "must do" strategic areas for action, to be co-ordinated and funded largely by the Commonwealth and State Governments. And the Prime Minister has made a firm commitment to develop a long-term plan to reduce homelessness for all ages.
This twin focus of reliance on care from devoted individuals and community groups, with a mix of targeted government policies and programs, has characterised the response to social problems of Western welfare states, including our own, for the past century.
But history shows that this approach fails to deliver for homeless youth. The evidence for such failure is clear: for the last 20 years, despite extraordinary national wealth and expanding government service budgets for welfare initiatives, Australia's toll of social ills has continued to escalate. Tellingly, over these past two decades under a cycle of both Labor and coalition governments, youth homelessness has doubled while growth in our nation's material prosperity has burgeoned.
We all know, deep down, that the fundamental issue here is the quality of relationships: whether we seek to protect the wellbeing of our young, support the resilience of indigenous communities, protect women from domestic violence, or simply help working families to stay together as families.
Individual responsibility in building and maintaining strong relationships cannot be avoided or denied. At the same time, we must recognise that government policies have far-reaching social effects through their impact on relationships, whether or not that is their intention.
Issues that are often considered in predominantly economic terms - including urban planning and transport, housing, workplace relations, infrastructure, telecommunications, and water management - affect the stability of families, local communities and our broader society.
To address youth homelessness and other social problems effectively, the connections and dependencies between all government policies and relational outcomes must be understood and addressed proactively.
For example, as governments consider new workplace legislation or changes to retail trading hours, consideration needs to be given to the full social impact of changes. Working hours directly influence the amount and quality of time shared by parents, and the time they can spend with their children. Research has demonstrated a strong link between long and unsocial working hours and what happens in families, including the health of parents and their children and, ultimately, family breakdown. Retail trading hours establish a pattern of community and working life that has a powerful influence on family time.
Similarly, decisions about water management will have far-reaching effects on rural communities and the families who live in them. In addition, urban planning and transport policy directly influence commuting times, and the ease with which we can visit distant relatives and friends. The importance of housing affordability in supporting family relationships is well understood. Government decisions in these areas, and many others, affect the core relationships in all our lives.
Growth in youth homelessness and other acute social ills are the most obvious manifestation of a malady that runs deeper through Australian society.
A properly integrated approach to public policy is urgently needed. It will require a significant transformation from the status quo, but the reward will be worthwhile. It will overtake the limitations of federal and state boundaries and intra-government departmental silos to regard the bigger picture. And environmental as well as social implications of public policies will be dealt with explicitly, rather than by accident or afterthought.
The coming Australia 2020 summit provides a great starting point for a national discussion. However, the practical necessity of dividing delegates into 10 topic areas typifies a traditional, segmented way of thinking about policy.
The summit sets out to identify a range of new ideas from the community that can be shaped into public policy. But a set of insightful solutions in disparate policy areas will not achieve the stated goal: "to develop an agreed national direction that looks at the next 10 years and beyond". This will only be attained if a diverse range of plans is drawn together into a coherent whole.
Paul Shepanski is the executive director of Relationships Forum Australia.
THOUSANDS of homeless young people are being turned away from shelters every night because of a shortage of beds, a new report says.
The National Youth Commission report says around 22,000 Australian teenagers have no permanent roof over their heads and urgent action is needed.
Drawing on 319 submissions and 21 hearings held around Australia last year, the report says the numbers of teenagers left homeless every night has more than doubled since former human rights commissioner Brian Burdekin delivered his landmark report on child homelessness in 1989.
The new report, to be released today, labels the current number a "disgrace". It also criticises services provided by state, territory and federal governments.
"We are a prosperous country, we have a stronger economy than we've had for many, many years, unemployment has reached record lows, and yet we have this problem that — through neglect — has been allowed to continue," said the inquiry's commissioner, Associate Professor David Mackenzie. "We've just not done anywhere near the sort of things we need to do," Professor Mackenzie said.
It was reported that one in two young people are turned away from emergency shelters every night because of a lack of available beds.
Melbourne CityMission told The Age that at one of their shelters last year the turn-away rate was about five in six, with 101 young people accommodated out of a possible 600 referrals.
CityMission's general manager of youth and homeless services, Clare Nyblom, said: "We are seeing many of these young people with exactly the issues highlighted (in the report) daily in our services. We believe the homelessness system needs to be looked at."
Family and relationship breakdown were found to be the most likely causes of homelessness, followed by financial or housing problems.
The housing affordability crisis affecting the general population is also flowing down to young people, the report warns, and is predicted to influence greater numbers of young people becoming homeless.
The number of children in state care has also increased since the Burdekin report, partly due to increased vigilance by welfare agencies, and the report cites research linking homelessness to experience in state care.
It says the cost of "doing nothing" can be felt in the strain on health and welfare services, with homeless young people experiencing a higher prevalence of mental illness than the general population, higher occurrences of drug and alcohol problems and wider contact with police and the criminal justice system.
The report recommends an extra $100 million in youth homelessness-specific funding over the next three years and estimates that an extra $1 billion will be needed over the next 10 years.
It calls for a national housing affordability strategy with special attention to the needs of young people, for the setting of an aspirational goal to reduce youth homelessness, and for greater investment in early-intervention programs for at-risk youth and families.
Federal Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek said she would look closely at the report.
"It will inform the development of the Government's white paper which will set out a new, ambitious approach to ending homelessness over the next decade," she said.
?Victoria will receive $29.5 million of the Federal Government's $150 million election pledge for new homeless housing. Ms Plibersek said this would equate to 118 new homes. Funding would be provided over three years.
VOICES OF THE HOMELESS
?"A gang of guys tried to rape me while I was sleeping on a park bench. A friend helped me get away. Since that night I cannot sleep outside without a horrible sense of fear." 17-year-old female." Sleeping rough made it hard to stay on at school, so I eventually dropped out." 15-year-old youth."The feeling of hopelessness, like you're not worth anything." 17-year-old female."The Department of Human Services does not listen to anyone … they believe a crazy mum over a teen when they don't know the story … until I get a glass bottle smashed over my head … then they wake up." 21-year-old male."The price of private rentals is too high … and they don't usually accept you. I feel embarrassed being homeless because you get dirty looks and people never seem to understand." 20-year-old female.
SOURCE: Australia's Homeless Youth, National Youth Commission
TWO decades have elapsed and a lot of wealth generated since the last national inquiry into youth homelessness.
For two years the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Brian Burdekin travelled the country with his colleagues, Jan Carter and Father Wally Dethlefs.
At hearings in the cities and towns, they heard grim stories from young people, their parents and youth workers about the everyday reality for young homeless people.
Burdekin's report, Our Homeless Children, and his continuing campaigning had a huge impact on perceptions of homelessness.
So how, 20 years after Burdekin, have we allowed the number of homeless teenagers to double to 22,000? Why has this happened?
It doesn't seem to make sense.
The Australian economy has strengthened. We have low unemployment, large budget surpluses.
The independent National Youth Commission began an inquiry last year to find answers and develop solutions.
We conducted 21 days of hearings in all states and territories, heard 319 individuals, received 91 written submissions and held four forums.
The NYC report, Australia's Homeless Youth, released today, outlines an approach that will change the face of youth homelessness in Australia forever. It provides a roadmap.
Some Australians view young homeless young people with suspicion and even fear - the aggressive beggar on the street, the young "dole bludger", "street kids" stealing or prostituting themselves for drugs. These images often find their way into media reports. ,br> They do not accurately reflect the complexity or tragedy of the real-life experiences of homeless young people.
Youth homelessness in Australia is not only about street homelessness or "rough sleeping'.
We know that many have shelter but no safety from abuse, or real security.
They live for short periods with friends and acquaintances, at refuges and supported accommodation services, in unsafe boarding houses, squats and sometimes on the street.
Transience is their norm.
Uncertainty about where "home' is creates a shaky foundation for continuing in education, employment and connecting to community support.
My own participation on the NYC was deeply moving. Young people gave emotional and challenging evidence.
Their honesty and resilience is uplifting but what has happened to them is an indictment of our corporate neglect of children and young people.
I was also encouraged by evidence from youth workers who daily struggle in badly under-resourced services.
Some workers who spoke to the NYC had given evidence at the 1989 Burdekin Inquiry and their continuing commitment to homeless young people was an inspiration.
They have seen the situation worsen.
Relatively little has been done to deal with root causes of youth homelessness.
One cause is family conflict. All families experience tension and conflict of some form.
Marital stress, divorce, the introduction of a step-parent, domestic violence, parental drug use, poverty and long-term unemployment can all contribute to seemingly irreconcilable breakdowns within some families.
A result for many young people is temporary or permanent homelessness.
The experience of the Commonwealth-funded Reconnect Program has proved that early intervention into family conflict can prevent young people leaving home.
Yet only one third of the country has access to a Reconnect Program.
Young people who have been in state care are over-represented among the chronically homeless.
Unfortunately, many who are abused or neglected at home, or have lived transient lives with their families, still experience inadequate support and multiple placements within state care.
The number of notifications of risk has risen steeply in recent years.
If nothing is done it will inevitably flow on to more young people at risk of long-term homelessness.
Teenagers receive lower income-support payments than adults and if working receive a lower wage.
Yet there are no rental discounts. Their housing costs are the same as yours and mine.
The housing affordability crisis and rental shortage compounds their disadvantage, making it virtually impossible to gain secure housing.
Public and community housing has not increased to meet demand.
These people have nowhere to go except crisis accommodation services. Tragically, half of those seeking access each night cannot be accommodated.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd personally identified homelessness as a key policy area for his first term.
The Government initiated a Green Paper for discussion and a White Paper in August to set out its plans.
This is very positive. The NYC's Roadmap For Youth Homelessness has 10 "must do" priorities.
The challenge for government will be to create a truly federal-state national plan, with targets based on real need and strong accountability.
Youth homelessness won't be solved overnight. But it can be if the right policies are implemented and properly resourced over the next 20 years.
Perhaps then youth homelessness will be a topic for historians, rather than a daily tragedy in the lives of many young Australians and their families.
Major David Eldridge of the Salvation Army chairs the National Youth Commission.
Teen homelessness skyrockets in 20 years
Homelessness in the face of economic prosperity
Report paints a sorry picture of neglect
TEENAGE homelessness has doubled in the past two decades despite Australia's record run of prosperity.
Household wealth has trebled since 1996, but there are now 22,000 12- to 18-year-olds among the 100,000 homeless across the nation, up from an estimated 8500-10,800 in 1991.
Young people cite a breakdown in their relationship with their parents or step-parents as the main reason for their homelessness, a new report reveals.
Each night, one in two will secure an emergency accomodation bed; the others are left to the streets or "couch surfing" at a friend or acquaintance's home.
The report, Australia's Homeless Youth, to be released today by the National Youth Commission, paints a sorry picture of neglect.
Programs for emergency accommodation and transition into longer-term housing, and services to reconnect young people with their families, are all deemed inadequately funded.
It also notes the abject failure of state care programs, finding "a third of young people leaving state care are case-managed into homeless services" and 42 per cent of homeless adults in emergency accommodation had been in state care as youths.
The NYC report comes after Kevin Rudd flagged homelessness as a key social priority.
The Prime Minister has committed $150 million during his first term for extra housing for the homeless, and in January he commissioned a white paper to examine strategies to tackle the issue over the next decade.
For years, governments have made commitments to address youth homelessness and poverty, only to be caught out by the complexity of the problem. In 1987, former prime minister Bob Hawke declared: "By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty."
The report says funding for the highly regarded emergency accommodation program Supported Accommodation Assistance Program had "stagnated" since the mid-1990s, and the successful $20 million Reconnect program introduced in 2001 to help homeless youth reconcile with their families should be trebled.
It calls on the Rudd Government to invest an extra $100 million in its first term to address shortfalls in homeless services on top of the $150 million election pledge, and $1 billion overall in the next decade.
The new spending could generate as much as $900 million in savings on welfare costs, health and mental healthcare, drug and alcohol programs, the justice system and jails, the report says.
It is the most significant study undertaken on youth homelessness since the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission published Brian Burdekin's seminal Our Homeless Children in 1989.
"Youth homelessness has doubled at a time when you'd think it would be reducing," NYC chair David Eldridge told The Australian.
"There are a lot of causes: family conflict, sexual abuse of young people, parents responding inadequately around divorce, inappropriate management of young people within the state care systems and and the further issue of housing affordability," said Major Eldridge, from The Salvation Army.
Solving homelessness requires a national approach
THE problems of child abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol dependency, unemployment, sub-standard education and housing are acute in many remote Aboriginal communities. But few non-Aboriginal Australians witness our great national shame first-hand. Homelessness, however, can literally appear on our doorstep. As the report of the National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Homeless being released today reveals, the number of homeless teenagers has doubled to 22,000 during the past 20 years, despite a record-breaking run of economic growth. More than 20 years after Bob Hawke's reckless promise that no child would live in poverty by 1990, 27,000 children are living in state care. And despite the recommendations of the landmark 1989 Burdekin report on youth homelessness, at least 36,000 young people under 25 are homeless on any given night. At a time when the cost of rental accommodation is skyrocketing, the problem can only get worse.
The abysmal record of previous federal governments is largely to blame for this situation. As two of the report's authors - NYC commissioner Associate Professor David MacKenzie and Major David Eldridge - point out in an oped article today, there has been no national strategy for dealing with homelessness. Co-operation between the commonwealth and the states has been almost non-existent. The only initiative launched since the mid-1990s has been the effective but hopelessly underfunded Reconnect program, which provides early intervention, reconciliation and mediation services for at-risk youth and their families. Given that almost half of those youths who sought help from the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program reported a breakdown of interpersonal relationships as the cause of their homelessness, the ability of Reconnect to reach only one-third of communities is a major oversight.
As a society, we must work hard at the family and community level to prevent young people from becoming homeless in the first place. We must also break down the barriers that prevent homeless people from being able to participate productively in society. Of the estimated 100,000 homeless people in Australia, teenagers are among the most vulnerable. At a time when they should be making the most of educational and training opportunities before entering the workforce, many homeless youths are instead finding themselves susceptible to long-term unemployment, drug abuse, crime and mental breakdown. Aside from the incalculable cost of these wasted lives, the wider community is also paying a price as health and community services, drug and alcohol programs and the justice system struggle to cope with demands. The cost of fixing years of neglect - up to $1 billion in new funding over the next decade - seems high, but the price of doing nothing is far greater.
The NYC has placed pragmatism over idealism by recognising that merely providing a bed and a handout will not solve a national problem. The report gives priority to early intervention programs to slow the flow of young people from broken or dysfunctional families finding themselves on the streets. It also recommends examining and reforming state care systems to ensure that on leaving state care, youth are equipped to gain employment or training. The same outreach services must be applied to youths moving out of assisted accommodation programs. Instead of focusing on rental subsidies, the report recommends increasing the affordable housing stock. If implemented together with strategies to reduce the number of mentally ill people cast on the streets because of underfunded mental healthcare services, there is hope for the homeless. Kevin Rudd has shown his compassion for the homeless by promising $150 million to halve the number of people being turned away from shelters and by addressing accommodation shortages. The NYC's report should help turn the Prime Minister's promises into reality.
I STARTED seeing signs of it when I moved back to the city just over a month ago. Yet even though it was as obvious as the nose on my face I didn't twig initially. It was only after I'd seen the same couple of cars parked in the same discreet spots near my foreshore walking track did it dawn on me that the people inside those cars probably weren't sleeping off a big drink night after night.
Chances were, I reasoned to myself as I watched a young man emerge sleepily from his modest late-model sedan, that he probably wasn't sleeping in his car by choice. Chances were that he had nowhere else to go.
Then I noticed the tell-tale blanket stashes under benches and picnic tables in nearby parks. More of them than I'd remembered seeing in the same parks in the past. And I gave a second look to a carefully marked out "patch" in the two-storey car park at work — complete with a body-length piece of chipboard, a pair of ear plugs and a crumpled rug.
They were small signs but, in many ways, they told of a bigger story.
So when a friend of mine who runs St Kilda's Sacred Heart Mission rang me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that the number of people having breakfast at the Mission had increased by 300% in the past 12 months it all fell into place.
The housing crisis, he said to me, was starting to bite and the first place it was biting was in the meals services of places like the Mission.
People were coming to the Mission for the first time, he said. And they were coming because they couldn't make the same ends they'd made meet in the past meet any longer. The basic needs of food and shelter were slipping out of their reach.
Families struggling to pay the rent or the mortgage were slipping quietly in for lunch at the weekends, with a gentle yet dignified resolve.
Others who'd previously held their own on low incomes were wrestling with plummeting self-esteem and joining the 400 or 500 other people being fed out of the largely volunteer-run kitchen every day.
Others had been completely squeezed out of the housing and rental market — a human domino effect — as the people at the lower income end of the economic food chain were pushed, somewhat ironically, into expensive rooming houses that pretty much guaranteed they'd be kept in a cycle of homelessness, unable to afford to break it.
And it was pretty clear — from the people I was talking to at the Mission — that the combined forces of interest rate rises, a sky-rocketing cost of living and a critical shortage of community housing was all lining up with spectacular cruelty to create a new face of homelessness. ,br> And it was a long way from the stereotypical face of homelessness that came wrapped in a stigmatised ribbon.
This new face of homelessness had much more in common with middle-Australia. A face that had previously owned or rented successfully. A face that had held down jobs and paid its bills on time. And, after spending years lurking in the shadows of the national subconscious, it was increasingly visible.
And the story was the same for others doing help work. Every organisation holding onto the fraying edge of the homelessness safety net was saying the same things. More people coming for food. More people needing emergency housing. More people coming for financial assistance and support. People whose own safety net had long frayed were coming in to hold onto someone else's while they tried to mend their own.
And it looks certain to get a whole lot worse. Because this week — thanks to a National Youth Commission report — we found out that the number of young people who are homeless in Australia has doubled in the past 20 years. That's a lot of people jostling for services.
While the Federal Government has prioritised the homelessness problem it's hard to see how the proposed $150 million it's throwing at community housing can really do much to fix it.
It's meant to pay for 600 new public housing homes. Yet there are 100,000 people every night somewhere in Australia without one. That still leaves a lot of people out in the cold.
The question for us now is do Australians really want to see our looming homelessness crisis become as visible as it's threatening to become? And what are we prepared to do to prevent it?
Tracee Hutchison is a Melbourne writer and broadcaster.
If only social policy could be solved by our classic Australian model of having an inquiry and adopting a (invariably federal) funding program.
The issue of homeless youth ("Teen homelessness more than doubles’’, 8/4) is among the many difficult problems in contemporary Australian society. The funding of young people to live away from home is only one strand in what many people consider to be a wider issue of family breakdown. There is no easy or obvious way that the federal or state Governments can act in this matter while Australian society continues to evolve along its present lines.
It would be all too easy to proclaim the standard conservative (and religious) line that all our problems will end when we return to a social system in which everyone marries and the couple sticks together through thick and thin no matter what. The churches might like to consider, for example, their policies on marriage (increasingly restrictive and directive) and such things as baptism (almost non-existent due to similarly restrictive and directive approaches). A clear result of the behaviour of the churches is the almost complete separation of family life, other than schooling, from any association with the social networks once closely linked to the churches.
Governments might have to take a stronger line on assisting non-nuptial parenting and income support for children to live away from home, although how to do that without creating even more problems is hard to figure out. As we see with growing truancy, an incredible growth in child abuse and increasing parental failures across all income and social groups in Australia we are in real trouble as far as family life is concerned. It is easy to highlight the problems but the solutions are hard to see.
It is not just an issue for Kevin Rudd and his team. It’s a matter for all Australians but I have no idea how we go about a cultural and ethical renaissance that reaches beyond the cliches.
DAVID Mackenzie and David Edridge ("A roof over every head’’, Opinion, 8/4) say that youth homelessness is the fallout from three decades of social and economic change including no-fault divorce and single parenting, yet they suggest that few people would seriously want to reverse these social changes. Surely this is the problem. Simple behaviour changes which cost the community nothing are ignored while communal strategies that cost billions are promoted by an ever-expanding “care’’ industry.
Daisy Hill, Qld
The National Youth Commission's report, Australia's Homeless Youth, issued yesterday represents a watershed moment in our ongoing battle against this blight on our society.
Not since the Burdekin report in 1989 has the scale of the problem been so accurately exposed. When the number of homeless teenagers doubles in 20 years, despite us achieving record levels of prosperity, then something is seriously wrong.
But while the problem is on the increase, it's not insurmountable, and the recommendations in the report, along with costings, provide us with a good start for bringing homeless numbers down. As one of the lead agencies in dealing with homelessness, Mission Australia firmly believes that the eradication of homelessness in Australia is an achievable goal. ,br>
Given that young Australians make up almost half the total number of the country's homeless (46,000 under the age of 25 out of a homeless population of 100,000) and considering their extreme vulnerability, we must find the willpower and resources to start helping them first. ,br> For starters, the report's recommendations for a threefold increase in the Federal Government's youth homelessness program, Reconnect, as well as expanding another of its homelessness prevention initiatives, HOME Advice, are absolutely on the money. We also suggest there are a range of other support services that could be introduced to complement both programs.
For example, Reconnect works with families to reduce conflict and reconcile parents and their kids in order to prevent youth homelessness. Sometimes, giving a teenager "time out" from home, just for a week or two, allows for breathing space where problems can be more effectively solved.
To this end, I believe the Nightstop program that's been operating successfully in Britain is worth considering.
Under Nightstop, homeless young people stay temporarily at the house of a carefully screened volunteer. This would allow Reconnect's highly skilled staff to do their job and work on the issues at the heart of the parentyoung person conflict even more successfully.
It's a valuable alternative to young people entering the emergency accommodation system. We want to avoid young people getting caught up in the cycle of homelessness as much as possible.
It also helps harness local community resources. Many community members want to support homeless young people but don't know how. This approach keeps young people in their community, and in a safe environment, while giving them and their family the time out they need.
We also need to do better at integrating the support services available for young homeless people or those at risk of homelessness.
One option for some homeless young people is creating youth "foyers" these offer a range of support services depending on the person's situation and need. Foyers are quite common in Britain and France and play a leading role, not only in providing bedsit accommodation and other services, but also links to employment, education and training, which are particularly important factors in getting someone out of homelessness.
It's also essential that the services we offer provide young homeless people with stepping stones back into the community.
At the moment, a homeless young person might receive help for three months at a crisis service and then get placed in more long-term accommodation, which supposedly ends the problem.
But how can that be?
Common sense and experience tells us that three months in a crisis service isn't going to be enough to tackle the problems that lie at the root of someone's homelessness particularly if, as is often the case, these young people have suffered significant trauma, abuse and neglect over many years.
They need to be able to move to more medium term and supported housing before making the leap to independent living, or we'll find that in another 12 months the person is going to be homeless again.
Providing these services as stepping stones for young people is extremely important because it gives them the time and space to develop relationships, build self-confidence, and get back on their feet.
Finally, the report's calls to establish a national homelessness strategy, as well as a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry into the high number of young people leaving state care who become homeless, are to be applauded. The thing to remember through all this is that we can't treat homeless youth as one homogeneous group. The needs of a homeless young person in Kings Cross are going to be different from those of a young homeless indigenous person in a remote Northern Territory community.
Our services need to reflect that.
Australia's Homeless Youth is a clarion call for action.
At a time when homelessness has never been more on the nation's agenda, we must grab the opportunity to make a difference.
Toby Hall is chief executive of Mission Australia.
AS a raw statistic Nancy Isaac is lucky -- even though she might not feel the same way in the flesh.
Homeless at 16, she managed to score crisis accommodation in an eight-bed Darwin facility that regularly turns kids away.
Her life story has been reduced to a figure in a National Youth Commission report that reveals the number of homeless teens has doubled to 22,000 in the last 20 years.
Released yesterday, the report also showed that the nation's Supported Accommodation Assistance Program turns away one out of every two homeless youths each night.
"In Casy House I started to make friends and to talk a lot more,'' Nancy said.
Nancy said before that, she was depressed and didn't trust people.
"At that age, you think you can trust people and then you find out that you can't trust them -- it's very bad.''
Christa Hilton is the team leader of a Darwin YWCA youth housing program that manages Casy House in Rapid Creek. Ms Hilton said the Territory had the highest rate of youth homelessness inthe country.
"In the last financial year, one out of every 37 young people in the Territory required the assistance of support accommodation programs,'' she said.
The national average is one out of every 105.
"And 58 per cent of the young people seeking support in the Northern Territory don't get it.''
The youth commission report calls for a funding increase of $1 billion over the next decade for early intervention programs, housing, and community services.
Nancy echoed its call for increased housing and support services.
"If I had a wish list I'd like there to be more suitable accommodation and more programs that can help young people and families.''
Now 21 and after years of floating between supported accommodation and relatives' houses, Nancy lives in a Palmerston unit -- a place she calls her own.
"I've made it homely -- I've got furniture and paintings and photos of my sister and her two kids,'' she said.
"I've had my ups and downs ... but I've just got to build things back up again.
"I plan on going to university and becoming a youth worker -- I know what young kids go through.''
NOTHING nicer than getting into your bed at the end of the day is there.
Fantastic. Just lying down, nice pillow, clean sheets . . . may I recommend The Oasis for your Thursday night viewing?
And if you have a couple of super annoying teenagers you're often tempted to throttle, may I suggest you line them up on the couch and make them watch it as well? I don't know if you've heard anything about this show, there's been a bit around about it this week – it's a documentary about a youth refuge in Sydney run by a Salvo called Paul Moulds.
He and about half a dozen young people are the focus – the filmmakers followed them for two years.
Everyone's pretty open about things – there's one person we meet who's using heroin to the tune of $600 a day. What's not explained is what they might have to do to pay for it . . . sex was my feeling, but I don't know. Poor thing. That's how I felt with all of them – the poor little things. One guy came home one day and his mother had just cleared out, left him and his brother to it. He was eight, his brother 14, and his whole childhood was just a horrible litany of foster homes and dodgy drugs.
There is a bit of god talk from Moulds, not as much as I'd feared but still, I had a moment where I went, please don't tell me everyone's going to swap drug addiction for religious addiction.
Ken, an old Salvo who works at Oasis, actually complains about how it's a one-way street, how these people take, take, take and give nothing back.
I didn't really care for his attitude – I think it's a question better asked of other parts of society. But you do look at this and wonder how Moulds keeps it together. His wife works in a mission next door – we see her crying in one bit, she's just been talking to one young woman they've both known for years, it all seems pretty hopeless.
It's so sad, the girl is really self-aware, and to hear her talk about what drugs are doing to her is awful. I hope you're not sitting there going, well why doesn't she just stop using them . . . smug isn't a very attractive quality.
But there are drugs and then there are drugs, aren't there. This program isn't pretty, but walk into one of Brisbane's big pubs any night after a major race meeting or football game and tell me you think that's a healthy scene.
AUSTRALIAN political leaders will be forced to confront a damning report this week revealing the country's youth homelessness shame.
The National Youth Commission inquiry will deliver its findings on Tuesday after a year-long investigation into the crisis, with a 10-point plan to spend almost $1 billion to tackle the problem. The report reveals that despite Australia's increased prosperity over the past two decades, the number of homeless youths had doubled.
The inquiry follows a 1989 investigation into youth homelessness by the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner Brian Burdekin.
Inquiry head Prof David Mackenzie, from Swinburne University's Institute for Social Research in Melbourne, said governments at all levels had "not done enough".
"When I look back over almost 20 years I'm somewhat underwhelmed by the response to the Burdekin report because it wasn't followed up with any sort of planned approach nationally," he said.
More than 100,000 Australians live on the street, a third are under 25, a quarter live in Queensland.
Angela Barnes, executive manager of Brisbane Youth Services, said homelessness had become more common in the past 20 years, and governments had failed to take action.
"They need to realise that these are not just homeless people, they are amazing young people and they just need more investment in them," she said.
The service, run from Church St in Fortitude Valley, aims to help people get back on their feet through free meals and a training and employment project. Fifty people a day, on average, walk through the doors.
"It's difficult for people to imagine how hard it is to be homeless," Ms Barnes said. "If you're hungry, you can't think about anything else, and once you've satisfied that you have to think about where you will live and how to get counselling for trauma. Only then will you be able to think about a job."
Natasha Attard, 22, slept rough after running away from home at the age of 15.
Now she lives in single-parent accommodation at Windsor, in Brisbane's north.
"It gets harder to survive on the streets every year because a lot of abandoned buildings have been demolished, which forces people to sleep under bridges and in parks," she said.
"When I was living rough I stayed in a group for safety. The streets are a dangerous place at night."
Queensland-based NYC commissioner Father Wally Dethlefs said early intervention and finding ways to reconnect young people with their families was the best way to reduce youth homelessness.
"Turn off the tap of homelessness by doing the prevention stuff. Until we do that it's going to get worse and worse."
The NYC inquiry held 21 days of hearings nationwide and heard evidence from 319 witnesses as well as receiving 91 written submissions.
GLBT youth agency Twenty 10 has welcomed The National Youth Commission’s (NYC) Inquiry into youth homelessness in Australia. Twenty 10 contributed to the report by detailing issues facing homeless queer youth in NSW.
In a statement, Twenty10 Executive Officer Meredith Turnbull said that “this report highlights the relevancy of GLBT specific services” and that GLBT youth experience the same difficulties as all homeless children, compounded with homophobia and abuse within some generalist services.
The NYC proposes a roadmap of 10 essential strategic actions, which include the development of a national framework and plan of action, increased affordable housing for young people, an expanded Reconnect early intervention response for at-risk young people, funded cooperative links between specialist health, drug and alcohol and employment services, post-vention support for young people getting back on track, and more.
Caretakers’ Cottage, a GLBT-friendly homeless children’s refuge in Bondi, has also welcomed the recommendations. “We are very pleased with the findings of the report, especially in regards to the Reconnect program,” President Nicholas Stewart told SX.
After the Australia’s Homeless Youth report’s launch in parliament last Tuesday Lord Mayor Clover Moore said, “The report identifies nearly 5,000 homeless young people in NSW alone and 22,000 across Australia, with the cost of not helping calculated at more than half a billion dollars.”
Funded by the private philanthropic Caledonia Foundation, the inquiry received input from 319 individuals, including young people, with written submissions from government departments across Australia.
Major David Eldridge (NYC Chair), Associate Professor David Mackenzie, Narelle Clay, AM, and Father Wally Dethlefs claim that youth homelessness should be on the political agenda alongside issues like climate change.
The good news is that people are talking about homelessness. The bad news is that people still need to talk about it.
At least it seems to be an issue that is on the agenda of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. It was only after last year’s federal election that it became known that the-then Opposition Leader had visited a homeless shelter during the campaign. Had he done this with cameras and reporters in tow it might well have been dismissed as a cynical political stunt. Instead, his concern appeared genuine, and he subsequently suggested to his parliamentary colleagues that they, too, should get first-hand experience of services to the homeless.
As PM, Mr Rudd has gone some way to turning words into actions. There’s a commitment by his government to spend $150 million on new housing and $2.8 million for social, sporting and community programs. In addition, in January he announced plans to develop what he called “a comprehensive, long-term plan to reduce homelessness”.
There are proposals for a green paper, a formal process of consultation next month, then a white paper in September charting a way forward. Please don’t ask me the significance of the colour-coding, though I’m reassured by the fact that Tony Nicholson, executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence and a man with vast experience in the social welfare sector, is leading the steering committee. Still, there’s always concern that these things can generate more papers than projects.
It is estimated that on any night, around 100,000 people in Australia are homeless – a category that includes people staying with friends or relatives (but without a permanent home of their own), people in places such as boarding houses, people sleeping rough, and people in crisis or transitional accommodation. The problem is getting worse rather than better.
Early figures from the 2006 national census suggest an increase in the number sleeping rough. Half of all people (including children) wanting emergency accommodation will be turned away. The number of families seeking assistance from the St Vincent de Paul Society rose by 30% between 2002 and 2007. Which was, we were told in last year’s election campaign, a period of great prosperity in Australia. And it probably was – for some. Luxury cars sold well. Penthouses in new apartment buildings were keenly sought after. They still are. Meanwhile, the largest single group in the homeless population, making up just over one-third of the total, represents those aged between 12 and 24.
This month, a new report on homeless youth will be released (see p22). It comes almost 20 years after an influential report on the same topic. Those involved could be forgiven for wondering if much has changed at all: only the faces and figures are different. But at least the PM appears keen to do something about it. As does his wife, Therese Rein.
During their recent visit to New York, Rein visited the HQ of Common Ground, which converts buildings into affordable housing. She is patron of an Australian offshoot of the organisation. Also in New York, the PM announced a possible Australian bid for a seat on the UN’s Security Council in 2013–14. The cost of such a bid, which appears to be the diplomatic equivalent of anything involving the Olympics, reportedly could be $35 million. Perhaps I don’t get out enough, but I’ve never encountered anyone terribly fussed about Australia’s influence (or lack thereof) in the Security Council. And there are any number of services and groups dealing with homelessness that would put $35 million to much better use. Priorities, Prime Minister, it’s all about priorities…
At The Big Issue, we work with people who know a lot about homelessness. But it’s wrong to suggest that all our vendors are homeless. Many will have experienced it, but selling the magazine is often part of a long-term process to improve their circumstances.
Those of us who put the magazine together have a relatively simple brief: make it as lively, interesting, relevant and appealing as possible. The more copies each vendor sells, the happier we all are. Actor Kerry Armstrong (our cover story this edition) and the issue of homelessness may seem like an odd mixture. But, really, they’re a perfect marriage – and not only because Armstrong has a strong social conscience.
This is the only magazine that can offer an interview with somebody like her in a publication that directly helps the person selling it. That’s the good news. And, this time, there’s no bad news
A report from the National Youth Commission (NYC) is calling for an extra $1 billion to be invested in homeless shelters over the next ten years to help ease the crisis.
The government has so far committed $150 million for long term accommodation.
The Burdekin report in the 1980's shocked the community and prompted then Prime Minister Bob Hawke's infamous promise: "By 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty."
But since then the number of homeless teenagers on the street has doubled to 22,000 with half turned away from emergency shelters each night because they are overburdened. Almost 50 per cent of homeless youth seeking crisis accommodation told the commission a relationship breakdown with parents or step-parents was the main reason for their homelessness.
A further 32 per cent sited financial difficulties. Commission Chair Major David Eldridge says many children who grow up in troubled families feel they have no where else to go.
"Young people who've been in state care are over represented amognst the chroncially homeless."
"Many who are abused or neglected at home or have lived transient lives with families continue to experience inadequate support."
Beau, 27, has spent ten years on the streets. He was abused, got involved with drugs, tried to commit suicide and ended up in a psychiatric hospital.
"I left home with one problem and ended up with much bigger problems."
Captain Paul Moulds has helped hundreds of young people like Beau since he started running the Oasis Centre in Surry Hills 14 years ago.
"It's not the lucky country for every kid," Cpt Moulds said. "This is going to take us committing to continuing to fund, continuing to research.
"We haven't done that. We took our eye off the ball, those funding programs came to an end.
"I think this is recalling us back."
The NYC report lays out a road map to solve the problem with a focus on early intervention and prevention
This prevention, the report claims will have a prolonged net benefit of $900 million by reducing the strain on mental health care, drug and alcohol programs and the criminal justice system.
One in 70 young people across the Northern Rivers do not have a place they can call home.
They sleep wherever they can – in cars or by ‘couch surfing’ or ‘crashing’ at their friends’ places for the night.
And if they are school-aged, they risk dropping out.
The problem is growing by the day, yet funding for youth services has been frozen for more than a decade.
This is the grim picture painted by the Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) in the wake of the release of a national report on youth homelessness.
As a result, the NRSDC has called for urgent action to address the problem.
The report, Australia’s Homeless Youth, by the National Youth Commission Inquiry into Homeless Youth, found that, despite 15 years of economic growth, there are 22,000 homeless teenagers without a safe place to call home each night.
NRSDC president Jenny Dowell said youth homelessness was a critical issue for the Northern Rivers, where it was estimated there were at least 500 homeless young people aged 12 to 25 across the region.
Ms Dowell said that, as funding was inadequate, services could not cope with the increasing demand in a fast growing region. “We need funding for youth homeless services, better planning and growth funding to expand other vital supports for young people. These include specialist mental health, anti-violence and substance abuse services as well as more options to keep vulnerable young people connected to education,” Ms Dowell said.
“We also need to work with families to try and prevent kids leaving home because of family conflict and need to find solutions to keep families united, but if the issue is extreme violence then obviously we don’t want to keep them there”. The report contains a raft of recommendations, including a threefold increase in funding for the Reconnect program that provides early intervention, case management and support for young homeless people.
The report says programs such as Reconnect have been effective in bringing teen homelessness down from a peak of 26,000 in 2001.
Manager of Northern Rivers Reconnect, Brett Paradise, said the number of young people without safe accommodation has increased alarmingly over the past 18 months.
“Young people have been badly affected by the housing affordability crisis that is gripping our region and we are very worried that homelessness rates will start to rise again,” Mr Paradise said.
“The reasons young people leave home are complex and varied but, overwhelmingly, the main reasons are family conflict, violence and drug and alcohol use.
“The concern is that many school-aged youth living in unstable accommodation are at high risk of not attending school and many drop out… some say young people choose to leave home but it’s not a choice people make if everything is going well at home,” he said.
“Youth services across the region are struggling to find safe options for young people who desperately need somewhere to live – there is a critical shortage of crisis accommodation in the area.”
Mr Paradise said the small increase in funding his service received recently did not account for rising petrol prices or wages and yet his service faced a 30 per cent increase in its client load in the past year.
“So we’re working harder and longer and able to deliver less with the same amount of money,” he said.
The report also recommends spending $100 million over three years to develop more emergency refuges, new forms of housing for independent young people and the development of a national action plan to eliminate youth homelessness by 2030.
JESSICA Black knows the raw reality of Toowoomba's homeless problem.
Jessica of Toowoomba (not her real name) is 19, a mother of two, pregnant with her third child and may be homeless in a week.
Her story is one of thousands coming to the forefront with the number of homeless youths in the country doubling over the past two decades.
The National Youth Commission inquiry will present its report tomorrow to Australian political leaders on the alarming increase of homelessness across the country.
Growing up in Oakey, Jessica first saw her life spiral out of control when she ran away from home at the age of 14.
"I never got on with my stepfather," she said.
"After moving to Toowoomba and dealing with both physical and mental abuse from family, I decided to move out of home.
"It wasn't permanent, as my mother would always find me at a friend's house and I would have to come home with her."
At the age of 17, Jessica decided enough was enough and ran away for good, never to see her home again.
"I moved to my sister's friend's place and then moved into my then boyfriend's house. The living arrangement just wasn't working out so I began couch surfing. This is a form of homelessness that people are unaware of. Homelessness can be not having a home to call your own.
"Living on the streets is tough and to be honest you don't really sleep. You have to sleep in the daytime because night time is too dangerous. When it gets dark, you need to stay alert.
"There are also places you stay away from, places you know you don't enter.
"A majority of homeless people in Toowoomba sleep in toilet blocks or under bridges."
For Jessica, homelessness was a continual problem and was soon to get a whole lot more complicated.
"You have to try to stay on everyone's good side and you stay away from other people's turf," she said.
"When I was almost 18 years old, I fell pregnant with my first child and then five months ago, had my second child.
"If you're found on the streets with your children, the department will take them away from you.
"Every night I found a safe place for my children to sleep, even if it meant me sleeping on the street."
Now living in a Housing Commission house, with her third child on the way, Jessica is faced with the realisation that she may be on the streets again.
Jessica's Centrelink payments were cut off after the Department of Child Safety removed her children from her.
Her children have now been returned to her, though payments have ceased.
"I'm four months behind in rent and will have to leave the house I'm living in in early April," she said.
"It's a scary thought as my future is very uncertain. I don't want my children to live what I lived."
Mission Australia's Reconnect co-ordinator Annette Hawkless said programs were put in place to assist people in situations like Jessica's.
"We offer casual workshops and programs to help people out," she said.
"These can include budgeting programs and networking exercises.
"Our aim is to break this vicious cycle and be a safe place people can turn to for support."
A REPORT released last week said more than 20,000 young people are homeless every night in Australia.
The Australia's Homeless Youth report, from the National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Homelessness, said no particular type of person was susceptible to becoming homeless, rather it was more a process of events in life when a relationship failed, being forced to leave home or getting into debt.
To mark Youth Homelessness Matters Day last Friday, UnitingCare Burnside's Campbelltown centre The Drum held a free barbecue to raise awareness.
It has a kitchen, bathroom and laundry for use and workers who try to help find accommodation and income.
Co-ordinator Yvette Doyle said the service helped 12- to 24-year-olds who were homeless, had drug and alcohol problems or were facing a general crisis.
"The most common research suggests 200 to 400 young people a night are homeless in Macarthur we think it's closer to 400," she said.
"Most of our homelessness is `couch surfing' where people don't have a bed so they're relying on the generosity of friends or parents.
"The issues are primarily family breakdown, lack of education, getting kicked out of home and these things seem to happen at once."
The Drum was one of the first places Mel, now 22, turned to for help when she became homeless at age11.
She's now living in her own place.
"[Being homeless] was hard," she said.
"I can't say it was easy. In my own place it's a lot more responsibilities but it's worth it.
"If [The Drum] wasn't around when I was homeless I'd probably be completely stuffed."
Mrs Doyle said a common misconception was that homeless people are at least middle-aged, yet 43per cent of the total homeless population in NSW is under age 24.
"I think if anything [the report] is positive for us because there's a suggestion that it's attracting attention," she said.
"Something can be done. I'd hate for people to get the sense that it's too big a problem."
Details: The Drum, 46283199.
St Vincent de Paul Society recently hosted a number of events to raise awareness of youth homelessness and to promote community action for young people who share a passion for social justice.
The first event took place at Mt St Michael’s College in Ashgrove. Discussions focused on youth homelessness, as the “National Inquiry into Youth Homelessness” Report was released on Tuesday 8th April.
The event featured several guest speakers seeking to inspire the young people into action. Kate Jones, the State Member for Ashgrove, spoke about her experiences with volunteering, social justice and issues young people are facing with rising housing costs. A young person from the local community shared her personal experience of homelessness and Jill McKay, Homelessness and Housing Coordinator from Brisbane Youth Services presented students with the hard facts and reality facing many young people in our community.
Joe de Pasquale, a dedicated member of the Society, shared some ways in which the Society is helping the growing number of homeless and marginalised community members across Queensland.
The event was effectively interactive, with the young audience members asking questions and sharing ideas about youth homelessness.
Youth who attended the event wrote short reflections and messages on an orange tarp that was displayed during the National Event, “Youth Homelessness Matters Day”, held at Captain Burke Park, Kangaroo Point.
People gathered from around the city to join in a day of public awareness about youth homelessness.
Vinnies got involved in these events to encourage young people to make the most of National Youth Week 2008 and help raise awareness of youth homelessness.
THE number of homeless youth in western Sydney is increasing and more accommodation must be found quickly before the situation reaches crisis point, Marist Youth Services executive manager Sue Smalls says.
A report by the National Youth Commission released last week found the number of homeless young people in Australia has doubled in the past 20 years.
The document, Australia's Homeless Youth, was the first national investigation into youth homelessness since the Burdekin Report in 1989.
The inquiry found there are now 22,000 homeless young people in Australia aged 12 to 18.
This figure rises to 36,000 when young adults up to the age of 25 are included.
Ms Small said Marist Youth Services aimed to provide housing for young people aged 12 to 20 in areas such as Penrith, Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains and Blacktown.
"Many of these children experience family breakdowns or have personal issues that force them to leave home," she said.
"All the indicators show that the number of young homeless people out there is rising."
Under their residential housing program, Marist Youth operate 17 houses across western Sydney for young people under 20.
Ms Small said because of the high need for housing in the area Marist Youth was struggling to meet the demand for beds and currently have a waiting list.
"The problem is that government support stops for young people at 18, which is a very young age," Ms Small said.
"We are waiting for more beds to become available so we can help more youth."
Ms Small said homelessness was often hidden and a young person didn't necessarily have to be living on the street to be homeless.
"Quite often homelessness for many young people is about, 'who can I put the hard word on this morning so I can stay at their house tonight'," she said.
"Many are sleeping in car ports, the floors of friends and, of course, the street."
Ms Small said the government needed to provide more assistance for counselling and accommodation while these youths attempt to find work.
"It's a catch 22 for these kids because they are looking for work but have no experience," Ms Small said.
"Many are on the street because support from DoCS stops at too young an age.
"Any kid living on the street is not going to present well in an interview.
"It makes it very difficult to break the cycle."
She said Marist Youth Service was doing all it could to provide a ciruit-breaker and offered a wide range of programs to teach the young people living skills so they could become self-sufficient.
"We teach cooking, budgeting and (a sense of) responsibility to assist them into independence," Ms Small said.
"We also maintain an after-care program for when they have left us. Without programs like ours so many more young people would have nowhere to go. But we need more assistance."
BONNIE Wilson has always had a roof over her head but it hasn't always felt like home.
Bonnie's parents separated when she was two and by the time she was 10 neither her mother nor father was able to look after her.
After spending time in a youth refuge, Bonnie was placed in several foster homes.
"My parents were angry with each other for as long as I can remember," she said.
"I didn't know anything but conflict growing up but I still wanted to stay with my mum"
Bonnie received little support from her first foster family and was eventually asked to leave.
"One day I had a disagreement with my first foster mum and got kicked out the next day," Bonnie said.
At the age of 11, Bonnie received another major blow when she was diagnosed with type one diabetes.
"It was extremely hard. I had to learn how to inject myself," she said.
After being asked to leave by her first foster mother, Bonnie moved into a new home when she was 15.
Fortunately her second family had a different approach and Bonnie experienced the care and support she had longed for.
"With my second family I experienced a real, stable family unit for the first time," she said.
"There were three other girls living there who had similar stories to mine."
Despite having been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Bonnie was doing well in school and in 2007 began her HSC year.
"While I was studying for the HSC I learned I could only stay where I was for another six months and I had nowhere to go (after that)," Bonnie said.
"I thought it was really unfair that I had the stress of the HSC and finding a place to live."
She said after much discussion, the Community Services Department (DoCS) allowed her to remain with the family only until she finished the HSC as she would then turn 18.
Bonnie said any process that involved DoCS moved very slowly and over the years she'd had a series of bad case workers.
"It was then that my foster mum found Marist Youth Services," she said. "They have given me a place to live while I complete a TAFE diploma."
Bonnie is on Youth Allowance and receives about $300 a fortnight to pay for food, rent and her expensive medical bills.
"I've tried hard to get work but have had no luck."
Bonnie said she was grateful to Marist Youth but she does worry about the future when she can no longer rely on their assistance.
"With everything that's happened to me I sometimes get so sick of it all but I don't have any other options," she said.
"Living here is a solid factor for me. Right now I'm trying not to think about where I'll be living in the future."
A HIDDEN epidemic of homeless people, including families and teenagers, are living on Boroondara streets and nobody is noticing.
Salvation Army EastCare regional homelessness manager Anne-Maree Rogers said homelessness referrals had doubled over the past year.
"There's been an increase of calls from the council and police reporting people sleeping under bridges. They're actually finding families, it's very concerning," she said.
"People just don't believe it exists, we've never been so busy."
Ms Rogers said rent rises and unaffordable housing were creating a "cycle of homelessness".
"Families with young children are in and out of insecure accommodation and that's the model kids are growing up with," she said. Finding accommodation wasn't the only answer, with more security needed in shelters to decrease violence and access to alcohol and drugs, Ms Rogers said.
A report from the National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Homelessness, released this month, found the number of homeless teenagers had doubled to 22,000 in the past 20 years.
Swinburne University associate professor and report commissioner David MacKenzie said youth homelessness was a "national disgrace".
He said family breakdowns, including conflicts with step-parents, were the most common cause of teenage homelessness.
Mr MacKenzie said Boroondara's affluent status did not make it immune. "There are quite a few boarding houses in Boroondara and people on lower incomes so one part of the community can be prosperous and in a secure job and another part can be unemployed or homeless," he said.
Mr MacKenzie said the commission wanted $100 million in federal funding during the government's first term, and an additional $20 million every year for the next 10 years for preventative measures.
Salvation Army EastCare: 9851 7800
Dreaming of a home
JAVIER Evertsz has been homeless since he was 16.
Now aged 19, Mr Evertsz still doesn't have a permanent home, but he hasn't let it stop him from pursuing his dreams.
Mr Evertsz's story differs from the common perception that homeless teens are drug or alcohol addicted troublemakers sleeping on the streets.
He said a family breakdown forced him to leave home.
"My stepfather and I just never got along," Mr Evertsz said. "He used to be in the army so was overbearing. I'm more of a passive person and I didn't like the way he dealt with me and my siblings. In the end I had to leave."
Mr Evertsz said he had lived in share houses, community housing, crisis accommodation and friends' houses over the past three years.
Although he now works as an usher while studying production theatre and events at TAFE, he said the absence of a permanent home was never far from his mind.
Anne-Maree Rogers, from Salvation Army EastCare in Hawthorn, said family breakdowns were among the most common causes of youth homelessness.
Negative generalisations sometimes made it difficult for teens such as Mr Evertsz to move forward. "People don't see the person behind the label of homelessness and that's a shame because we see so many people who are incredibly talented," she said.
Mr Evertsz said his new goal was to save enough money to visit his father, who he has never met, in Argentina.
Despite three years of hardship, he said he didn't regret leaving home.
"I think if I hadn't left I'd be failing at everything because I would have been depressed. I wouldn't be as happy, I don't know where I'd be."
Spending over a year immersed in the chaotic world of an inner city youth refuge is an eye-opener for even the most streetwise city dweller. Fights, drug psychoses, teenage pregnancy, police busts - the culture of the streets is one of never ending turbulence. But it is also a world full of colourful characters and inspiring workers with stories both spine-chilling and fascinating.
I arrived at Oasis in December 2005 knowing no one, and just started hanging around in the carpark with my camera, trying to fall in with the locals who congregate every day to socialise, wait for Captain Paul Moulds, have a shower and access support services. I soon learned Paul is surrogate father to a whole community of dispossessed kids and has been for 25 years.
The first hurdle was to overcome the rumour that I was an undercover police agent. After I shook off that stigma, and proved I could keep up on missions around the neighbourhood, the young people began to let me into their world. It helped that I shared their taste in hardcore ghetto rap music and was happy to run wild through the streets, parks, squats and dosshouses of the city.
Dusk was usually when things started to get interesting, as the streets come alive with shady activity easier to get away with under the cover of darkness. There were food vans to visit, fences to climb, abandoned buildings to explore. The kids need to find places to sleep and hang out where they are sheltered from the elements, safe from street predators, and away from the police.
I generally felt safe when I was out with a crew of Oasis kids as they protected me if I came under attack from other 'streeties' who were paranoid about the camera. But there were moments of revelation - when I witnessed the bashing of a 15 year old girl I realised I was not exempt from the aggression and volatility of this world. Given the explosive state of many Oasis kids, especially with the prevalence of the drug ice, it was important to choose friends wisely.
One of the most unnerving events I filmed was Darren having his ice psychosis. He was screaming and running around the carpark wildly - no one knew what he was capable of doing after such a massive amount of drugs. He was removed by police and sedated by psychiatric nurses before he could harm himself or anyone else. It was emotionally gutting, however, to watch someone I knew quite well, go through this trauma, even if it was largely self inflicted.
Another chilling moment was when Beau suffered a psychotic episode and burst into Paul's office completely delusional. Though I had known him as a sane and calm person, I wasn't sure quite what would eventuate given he was so far removed from reality. Luckily Paul delicately ushered Beau away into the arms of the mental health team.
The birth of babies - I filmed two - brought mixed emotions: the joy of watching a new being come into the world versus the dread that the child would face a life of disadvantage in a perpetuation of the cycle its parents were already part of.
The most valuable lesson I learned hanging around at Oasis was not to pre-judge people. Meeting the most dishevelled, downtrodden young person, or the toughest looking thug, you can never be sure what kind of person they are below the surface or what kind of life they have lived. Alongside cruelty and barbarism, I witnessed generosity and compassion beyond all expectations.
I really believe that with support, most of the Oasis kids can go on to lead fruitful lives. My fear is for those who damage their health irreparably through drugs or expose themselves to bad situations in order to make money for drugs. It is a long haul back once you get into the territory of prostitution, addiction and incarceration.
These kids are largely the product of shocking misfortune and their circumstances are only exacerbated by their dangerous lifestyles. Many people write them off as scum and welfare parasites but often they are more victims than perpetrators. What I think the general community really fails to understand is the danger of doing nothing to help them. To go for the jugular, your cars, your property, your own children will not be safe if kids who have been abused and abandoned are left to go feral on the streets with no one to care for them.
PERSPECTIVE Producer Sue Clark, Presented by Paul Barclay
You can read the transcipt of Kerry's interview of Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Housing by copying this URL into your browser window.
A HARD-hitting documentary on street kids has had the desired effect on Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar School's Year 12 students.
When voting on a cause to support as part of the senior school's annual concert, the student body overwhelmingly backed Kids Under Cover, an organisation devoted to helping homeless youth.
School vice-captain and concert organiser Hasini Jayatissa said many students watched the documentary after it was recommended by their Year 12 co-ordinator.
"There has been a lot of media coverage about homeless youth this year, especially during the recent National Youth Week," Hasini said.
"And because a lot of these youths are the same age as ourselves it really connected."
She said the students hoped to raise $25,000 to help fight youth homelessness through donations, an auction of goods donated by local traders, fundraisers and the concert.
"It's something so terrible that I couldn't begin to imagine what it (being homeless) must be like," Hasini said.
"To come from having a roof over your head and a good education we need to help people who don't have it that good."
The concert, which includes singing, dancing and skits, will be held at the school on Friday, May 16.
TWICE the number of Australian teenagers are homeless compared with 20 years ago. But Coburg's David MacKenzie has the answers to change this "national disgrace".
Associate Prof MacKenzie, from Swinburne University, has compiled Australia's Homeless Youth, with the Brunswick-based National Youth Commission. It is the the first national independent investigation into youth homelessness since the inquiry by the Human Rights Commission in 1989.
The report notes that on any given night 36,000 young Australians are homeless, with one in two young people turned away from emergency accommodation each night. These facts rile Prof Mackenzie.
"These are the most marginalised Australians, being placed in terrible situations in the early stages of their life because the system is letting them down," he said. "But this is an achievable national goal. We know how to do it, we just need the funding to make it happen."
Prof MacKenzie said more resources needed to be urgently directed to early intervention and prevention services; to keep children at school and connected to their families.
And the financial costs of doing nothing should alarm the community and all tiers of government, he said.
"Rudd handed back $31 million in tax cuts back as disposable income, so part of the economic surplus from our prosperity needs to be used to eliminate homelessness," he said. "We don't see the cost of doing nothing, but when you add up things like health costs, the justice system, and welfare payments, the cost of preventing family homelessness is about $1 billion.
"There are proven programs out there, but they don't have enough resources."
Prof Mackenzie said the National Youth Commission would continue to release more details of its $1 billion 10-year-plan of recommendations in the report, ahead of a Federal Government white paper on youth homelessness, due to be released in September.
To see the report go to www.nyc.net.au
A program to house youths at risk of becoming homeless has been expanded in the Nambucca Shire.
Reconnect Nambucca-Bellingen has set up two houses locally for youths who are on the brink of becoming homeless, which allows them to live independently with positive role models to guide them into the rental market.
This partnership with Community Housing is in addition to five properties put aside for young people to live in, if their family situation breaks down in the Valley.
Reconnect co-ordinator David Stamel said he would like to see the program expanded to include more homes for young people in the shire, and create similar schemes in the Bellingen Shire in the future, if more funding became available.
“We need more accommodation options for people,” he said. “I see Reconnect heading in the direction of supporting more accommodation by working with local real estates and Community Housing.”
The National Youth Commission report into Youth Homelessness, released last week, recommended Reconnect be expanded to cover all areas of NSW as part of a $1 billion fund injection to help solve the issues leading to homelessness.
The housing schemes in place for at-risk youths in Nambucca are for older teens, but Mr Stamel said early intervention was the key to preventing youth homelessness.
Reconnect focuses on teens from 12 to 18 years, to try to prevent them taking to the streets. In the Nambucca and Bellingen Shires, most homeless youths were ‘couch-surfers’, living on the goodwill of friends and family.
The young people do not want to go home, or cannot, because of a family break-down and other factors, and so move around the houses of relatives and friends, sleeping in spare rooms and on couches.
As this pattern continues, the Youth Homelessness Report states a young person’s options get slimmer – they are banned from houses, wear out their welcome, and eventually end up on the streets.
Mr Stamel said Reconnect aimed to step in before the youngsters landed on the streets.
“We see couch-surfing a lot and try to bring down the stress for the families and friends helping them out,” he said.
“If (the youths) feel like they can contribute by buying groceries, or something like that, they don’t feel as guilty about staying, either.
“In time, we help them get on with finishing their education, getting into the workforce and creating an exit plan to set up a house of their own.”
However, mediation is often used between younger children and their parents to try to work out the problems that might cause the ‘couch-surfing’ to occur.
The Reconnect youth workers meet at-risk youths wherever they wish (Reconnect’s office is in Urunga) to discuss their options for staying in a safe, stable environment.
Late last week, a lead tenant volunteered to help youths establish their own home in Macksville.
Mr Stamel said the home would be specifically for indigenous youths, who represent a high proportion of the homeless figures around Australia.
He said rental prices, especially in coastal regions such as the Nambucca Valley, were driving many young people out of the market.
There were no firm figures for the rate of homelessness in young people in the Nambucca Shire. Currently, a study was being undertaken by Bellingen council to calculate the numbers, where they stay and what services they use.
Mr Stamal said he hoped this study could be expanded into the Nambucca Shire to find out the extent of the problem locally.
TONY JONES: Some grim statistics to be released tomorrow reveal tens of thousands of young Australians are now without a home and it's not just the less well off. The year long inquiry into youth homelessness found all levels of society are affected. Rising rents, family breakdown and drug abuse are forcing more young people onto the streets and into supported accommodation. The report calls for urgent Government action. Youth Affairs Reporter, Michael Turtle.
MICHAEL TURTLE: Toni is 22-years-old and has a three year old daughter. For the last 10 years she hasn't had a place to call her own. Her mother abandoned her at two-months-old and it eventually reached the point where she couldn't live with her father and their partner.
TONI, 22-YEAR-OLD: There was one girl that used bash me and abuse me and everything like that. I just got to the point where I couldn't deal with it anymore. I got kicked out at 12.
MICHAEL TURTLE: Toni moved to Sydney and used drugs and with that came crime. She refused to sleep on the streets and would move between refuges and friends' couches.
TONI: You lose so many things. You lose your clothes you lose everything and your money doesn't last very long. You've just paid your money at one refuge and the other refuge might be more expensive so you're already owing money wherever you go if you move from one to another. It gets tough and tight.
MICHAEL TURTLE: Half of all homeless youth who try to get into emergency accommodation are turned away but Toni ended up at the Oasis Centre in inner city. Run by the Salvation Army it's one of a handful of organisations that offer help to desperate young people.
PAUL MOULDS, OASIS YOUTH CENTRE: We've got kids here with drug and alcohol issues, mental health issues, kids highly traumatised from some of the experiences they've been exposed to on the street and in their family life and those experiences, those scars need some specialist care to heal.
MICHAEL TURTLE: Every night in Australia, 100,000 people will be homeless. A third are under the age of 25 and about 22,000 are teenagers. Disturbingly, the findings from a year-long inquiry to be released tomorrow have found that it's getting worse.
DAVID MACKENZIE, REPORT CO-AUTHOR: Well, it's doubled in 20 years, basically. That's the quantifiable increase that we face.
MICHAEL TURTLE: And it's the young people who are coming to centres like this one in the relatively affluent Sydney suburb of Cronulla who make up much of the increase. They don't necessarily have drug or mental health problems. They're generally homeless because of family breakdown. Often caused by divorce, abuse or personality clashes.
KELLIE CHECKLEY, SHIREWORLD YOUTH SERVICES: In Cronulla, the Sutherland shire you won't see people sleeping on the streets or in doorways, they're couch surfing, they're the hidden face of homelessness.
MICHAEL TURTLE: 18-year-old Lauren moved out because of clashes with her mother, who was mentally ill. For a long time she survived staying with friends. It wasn't easy.
LAUREN, 18-YEAR-OLD: There are friends that offer you places, but to a certain extent, they have parents who look after you and feed you and you feel like an inconvenience and you feel bad and the friends don't know how to put it to you you've outstayed your welcome and everything. It's a bit difficult.
MICHAEL TURTLE: Lauren's biggest struggle has been with money. Tomorrow's report will show that's the case for about a third of young homeless people. And the inquiry has found that rising rents are making the problem more significant.
LAUREN: Whenever most people say that they think of the alcoholic guy in the corner in the city with his bottle in his hand and like garbage bags and everything. But there's so many kids younger than me and everything that have nowhere to stay and they're cold and hungry and they have nowhere to go.
MICHAEL TURTLE: About 70 per cent of young homeless people aren't on the streets or in crisis shelters, they're in supported accommodation or boarding houses. Even so, for most it's a difficult life.
DAVID MACKENZIE: That's not a situation which allows them to continue their schooling for many years. It's a hand to mouth sort of existence, it's a very unstable and transitory existence and if that continues on and on it tends to get worse for them.
MICHAEL TURTLE: The report will identify where the neglect has been over recent years and perhaps not surprisingly it's expected to recommend solutions that aren't cheap.
DAVID MACKENZIE: We're actually paying a cost of not doing things at the present time and that cost is much, much greater than the actual investment cost that we would pay if we actually responded appropriately.
PAUL MOULDS: We haven't been able to get politicians to hear that we are losing young people to the streets. Some young people dying, certainly to the jail and Corrective Services system. And it's because no one's been prepared to do some early intervention work, to do work at this level where we've got a chance to redirect these kids' lives.
MICHAEL TURTLE: The release of the inquiry's findings has been timed to coincide with National Youth Week. That culminates in the Federal Government's youth 2020 summit in Canberra this weekend, where the report authors hope that homelessness will be on the agenda. Michael Turtle. Lateline.
JOHN TAYLOR: As Stateline goes to air tonight about 100,000 people will be homeless. About a third will be young people. A national report released this week found that the number of homeless teenagers in Australia has doubled over the past two decades. It's highlighted in Queensland a lack of crisis accommodation centres particularly outside the south east corner.
(JOHN TAYLOR LOOKS AT THE HOMELESS YOUTH)
(FOOTAGE OF FOOD VAN FEEDING THE HOMELESS)
JOHN TAYLOR: This is Thursday night in Brisbane. Everyone here is homeless and hungry.
HELPER: Heaps of ham and vegies and gravy and that sort of thing.
JOHN TAYLOR: Many have been homeless for years. This 27 year old man started living on the streets when he was a teenager.
(JOHN TAYLOR TALKS TO THE HOMELESS) JOHN TAYLOR: What's it like?
HOMELESS MAN: Cold sometimes.
JOHN TAYLOR: Scary too?
HOMELESS MAN: Can be yeah. Not knowing where you're going to get your next blanket, or your next meal, or your next pair of shoes.
JOHN TAYLOR: So what's the future hold for you?
HOMELESS MAN Hopefully a house to raise my little girl.
BEN LOOPY, QUEENSLAND HEALTH: It's a fairly common scene especially given the high prevalence of mental illness and people coming out of prison and that sort of thing. There's nowhere for people to go
JOHN TAYLOR: The bright lights of a growing city beckon the people of Brisbane. But inside this van is a group of people who go to the city for another reason.
(FOOTAGE OF PEOPLE GETTING OUT OF VAN)
JILL MCKAY, BRISBANE YOUTH SERVICE: Um we're looking for young people who are sleeping rough. We might know them they might have accessed our service during the day. They might be not young people that we met; they might be young people that we know.
JOHN TAYLOR: Jill McKay is part of a street based outreach team that regularly heads out into the city to do what they can for the young and homeless. They check unlikely places like the Goodwill Bridge.
JASON FAGG, BRISBANE YOUTH SERVICE: People were actually living under here but bars and stuff were put up and if you look in there you can actually see the stuff still there from where the people were camped out.
JOHN TAYLOR: There are homeless nearby but they are sleeping.
JILL MCKAY: I don't want to disturb them. That's their home for the moment. I'm not going to knock on their door and
JOHN TAYLOR: Brisbane based Father Wally Dethlefs helped co-write a recent national report into Youth Homelessness. He says Queensland's most pressing problem is beds there's not enough government supported accommodation.
FATHER WALLY DETHLEFS, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION: One of our youth shelters here in Brisbane turned away around about 1,500 young people last year because they were full. Another organisation, accommodation organisation which accommodates young people who’ve got high complex needs, for every 10 who apply to get in one gets in, in far north Queensland, a similar thing for a hostel for girls.
JOHN TAYLOR: He says Queensland and Australia needs to spend more money on things like beds, and early intervention programs.
FATHER WALLY DETHLEFS: It seems to me that one fighter plane, one new fighter plane, would cost around about the same amount. A Fighter plane mostly is for death and destruction. I know that it can also be about defence right? The $1B that we might into homeless young people over a 10 year period is for the life of the nation and particularly for the life of powerless and vulnerable young people.
JOHN TAYLOR: This week, support groups and youth workers got together to call on governments to do more.
(FOOTAGE OF VOLUNTEERS HELPING OUT AND BEING SPOKEN TO)
BRISBANE LADY MAYORESS: Homeless that are sleeping rough and in this sort of inclement weather is not necessarily a lifestyle choice.
JOHN TAYLOR: Reece from Caboolture is 17 and he's not sure how long he's been homeless.
(JOHN TAYLOR TALKS TO HOMLESS PERSON REECE)
REECE, - HOMELESS YOUTH: A year, maybe two.
JOHN TAYLOR: What’s it like?
REECE: Hard extremely hard, you basically have to try and survive. You do something wrong and that's it basically.
JOHN TAYLOR: Are you homeless by choice?
REECE: No, I'm not homeless by choice. Mum and dad don't want me back in there's nowhere else for me to go. So I have to live on the streets.
JOHN TAYLOR: For support workers it's tough to have to turn young people away. Robyn Patterson is with a Brisbane Bayside accommodation centre called Babi.
ROBYN PATTERSON, BAYSIDE ACCOMM. CENTRE: Babi itself last year had 574 young people ask for accommodation. Now we could accommodate just 43 young people. That's a two and a half times turn away rate.
(JOHN TALKING TO ROBYN PATTERSON)
JOHN TAYLOR: And how does she feel about turning people away.
ROBYN PATTERSON: Yeah, it's not good. (Cries)
JOHN TAYLOR: Warwick looks like a typical country town but a 2004 survey revealed a serious problem.
(JOHN TAYLOR TALKS TO PAM BURLEY FROM SOUTHERN DOWNS COUNCIL)
PAM BURLEY, SOUTHERN DOWNS COUNCIL: We discovered that at the point of the survey we had 17 young people on that day who had self identified as being homeless.
JOHN TAYLOR: So that was 2004 we’re in 2008 now so what’s changed?
PAM BURLEY: There are still no places for young people in Warwick.
JOHN TAYLOR: Why?
PAM BURLEY: Um, we haven't been able to convince anyone who has got the where withall to support us financially.
JOHN TAYLOR: Maria Leebeek from the Queensland Youth Housing coalition says Warwick isn't alone.
MARIA LEEBEEK, YOUTH HOUSING COALITION: I think Warwick is an excellent example of what happens in every or most rural communities in Queensland. There is only three youth services west of the Great Dividing Range specifically for young people.
JOHN TAYLOR: This is a part of society full of heartbreak and cruelty, but there are highs as well like when Maria Leebeek met a man she helped years ago.
MARIA LEEBEEK: The first thing he said to me I’ve got a full time job, and I've got a place to live. And how are the kids? You know and that's really important to say "I did it I’ve done well". And I think that for me is probably the inspiration that keeps me going when you do hear and see young people like that coming back to you and saying hey you know it's worth it, it was all worth it.
JOHN TAYLOR: How many funerals have you been to?
MARIA LEEBEEK: Well, I probably don't want to.. yeah I've been to a few.
Every night there are 22,000 homeless teenagers, a tragic figure for a country as prosperous as Australia. YASMINE FATHY investigates why this is still such a prevalent problem, and what we should be doing to change it.
A thin young man with gaunt cheeks, sits in a chair. His hair is uncombed, and his face is exhausted. He hasn’t eaten in four days, and has been walking barefoot in the streets telling people he is John the Baptist.
Quietly he says, “My name is Beau Porter and I am dead.”
On any given night in Australia there are 36,000 homeless young people. Abused, neglected, and traumatised, they have been suffering silently for years. Now a three legged campaign that includes a report, a documentary and an education initiative aims to raise awareness of their plight.
Beau’s story is part of the Oasis observational documentary about youth homelessness, which chronicles the life of homeless Australians at the Salvation Army’s Oasis youth refuge. Oasis is run by Captain Paul Moulds, a man who has worked tirelessly, and anonymously for years to help Sydney’s homeless youth.
It captures youth homelessness in all it’s gritty reality of drugs, violence, criminality and emotional trauma.
"We wanted all the key issues surrounding homelessness to come out and so, the characters were ways of telling that,” explains director of the documentary, Ian Darling.
The documentary focuses on the lives of seven homeless people, each telling a compelling story of life as a homeless Australian.
“I guess we didn’t go necessarily into the goriest, or the most aggressive or whatever,” explains Mr Darling. “We came up with something that told the story, yet it gave enough hope for the audience.”
The documentary was launched with the release of the National Youth Commission inquiry into youth homelessness, during National Youth Week in April 2008.. The report was funded by the Caledonia Foundation, and is the first national independent inquiry into youth homelessness since the Burdekin Inquiry in 1989.
“The problem got worse, and gradually it got to the point we felt that we’re at a turning point, we need to have another look,” explains Associate Professor David MacKenzie, of Swinburne University, one of the four commissioners responsible for the report.
“The government wasn’t doing what we thought they should be doing.”
The report aimed to document the history of policy, programs, and initiatives by Federal, State and Territory governments to assist homeless youth. It also wanted to identify the issues that prevent homeless young people from connecting with the wider community, and to report on the existing services and programs
According to the report, the current situation is very tragic. Despite the fact that Australia’s economy has been consistently booming, the last 20 years saw the number of homeless youth reach 22,000. In fact, more than one third of the 100,000 homeless Australians are teenagers (aged 12-18) or young adults (aged 18-25).
The report detailed many of the causes of homelessness such as drug use, family breakdown, housing affordability, poverty, and mental health problems. It also asked the Australian government to develop a National Homelessness Strategy and Action Plan.
While the report provided the long needed information on this growing problem, the documentary put a face to the statistics.
Beau for example, was raised in Queensland with his three siblings, after his father left when he was 13 years old. He is one of the 49% of youths who left home after a family break-up. His mother tried to make ends meet in a small home, and they suffered from financial difficulties.
His mother was a good woman, and unlike many other homeless youth, there was no parental abuse in Beau’s story. However they did disagree often, and the arguments would end up in shouting wars.
Then one day he left.
“It wasn’t like walking out and leaving and never coming back,” he remembers. “It was a gradual leaving of home, like I go for a week, and then come back for a couple of days,” he continues.
It took him four months to leave home entirely. Beau, moved around staying at friends places, sleeping at men’s refuges, and in desperate times, under bridges.
Like the 6 per cent of homeless youth, he also battled depression, and at the age of 21 tried to commit suicide. Following his suicide attempt he moved to Sydney, and met Captain Moulds, but continued to live in temporary shelters.
But one day it got too much, and he suffered from a psychotic episode, which resulted in the haunting scene in the documentary, where he walks into Paul’s office, sits down, and tells him he feels dead.
“I think that psychosis was a combination of a lot of stress, taking a lot of pot, and also anti-depressant medication that I was on as well,” he remembers.
Paul, helped Beau go to the hospital where he spent nine weeks in psychiatric care. Although, the incident is one of the most disturbing scenes in the Oasis documentary, Beau does not remember it.
“For about six weeks I didn’t have any memories, there are flashes that come up every now and again,” he says.
He does remember though, the help that Paul, and the Oasis centre provided, and has vowed to help other homeless youth. His story, is what the NYC report calls the “process” of homelessness- becoming homeless, being homeless, and then re-establishing a livelihood and a place in the community.
He, now, has his own independent housing, and works along with Paul in Oasis. Life, he says, is not too bad anymore.
“Pretty much ever since I met Paul, I did a lot of growing,” says Beau. “I feel that I’ve got myself together… I’m pretty much independent, so I am a contributing member to the community now instead of being a drain on the resources,” he says.
But there are many out there who are still at risk. The NYC report highlighted the importance of early intervention, especially in schools. With that in mind, this week, the Caledonia Foundation has donated a copy of the documentary to approximately 3,200 secondary schools in Australia as part of its education and outreach component. The “Oasis Education Guide,” was launched at Parliament House, on the 28th of May by Tanya Plibersek, the Federal Minister for Housing.
The documentary will supplement a summary of the NYC report, and a study-guide which highlights it’s curriculum relevance.
“We felt the next generation really needed to embrace the whole homeless thing,” explains Mr Dalring, who is also the chairman of the Caledonia Foundation.
Although, the lives of the youth in the documentary may seem worlds apart from that of the students, there are still many similarities. The students, says Mr Darling, will appreciate their privileged status when they see the suffering of their peers in Oasis, and they will also be able to relate.
“They will see that so many of them are in the same age bracket,” he explains. “So I guess they will say gee these guys are teenagers like me, and that they are human beings…and it could be me.”
The additional study guide, which is owned by Metro Magazine, aims to help today’s media savvy students to engage with many of the questions that the film raised. Through exercises and role playing games, the guide encourages them to emphasize with the characters in the film, and the challenges they face.
“The fundamental aim is to lock [the students] in. Where would you go, what would you do, how would you cope?’ explains Marguerite O'Hara, the guide’s author.
So far, the schools have responded to the idea enthusiastically. Tony Weiss, the head of the Physical Development, Health & Physical Education (PDHPE), at Kincoppal Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart, can’t wait to show it to his Year 10 students in term four.
He has also encouraged the school’s boarding school students to view the film when it aired on ABC, under supervision.
“Initially some of them were confronted with the language and some of the violence that was exhibited in the program,” he says. “But it’s obviously very necessary for the teacher to...explain to the students the context that the film was made,” he says.
The education initiative is vital because often the problem starts during school years.
“In most schools it won’t be a big problem,” says Professor MacKenzie. But if every school has one or two students at risk, then the problem becomes significant.
“If you add that up across thousands of schools, you do end up with thousands upon thousands of young people,” he continues.
Beau points, that the documentary, can help the students who are experiencing the same problems to seek help before it’s too late.
“And also for the people who don’t have these issues, it may open their eyes and soften their hearts a little bit to the homeless people," he says.
No one knows the importance of school intervention more than Beau. After leaving home, he continued to go to school. Although, he says, some of his teachers were aware there he was experiencing problem at home, no one guessed that he was spending nights under a bridge.
“I never did homework, the only thing that got me through school was tests, exams, and stuff like that,” he says. “I am a pretty smart person.”
It’s a series of events, often tragic that leads young people to leave their home, their family, and live a meagre existence on the streets and in shelters. Despite this, many people still think of them as criminals rather than the victims they really are.
“But people look at them and go hey what are you doing, you are sleeping on the streets, you are not trying to better your life,” says Beau. “And those people are going through hell, and it’s why they are there right now they don’t know what to do.”
Hopefully, times will change. Mr Weiss points that his students are now becoming interested in the problem, and want to work with homeless youth as part of the school’s Social Justice program.
Paul is also getting the recognition he deserves.
“Many of the local community members, and shop owners were wanting to close down Oasis,” says Mr Darling. “And there’s been a total paradigm shift, of them saying now we understand what you are doing and would like to encourage you.”
It has also helped Beau’s family understand him more. While it was shocking to his family, it has helped them understand the ordeal he’s been through.
“They were shocked, most people who knew me were,” he says. “They look at it and they saw who I am now, they are actually very proud of me.”
He is finishing his community welfare certificate, and volunteers in church. He has finally found a place where he can belong.
“My journey is a testament that people can change given the opportunity, and the right resources.”
Experts on the subject have described it as a national disgrace, but, whatever label you give it, youth
homelessness is a massive problem in Australian society. Over the past 20 years, the number of teenagers
in our communities who spend the night looking for shelter has doubled to 22,000. Despite Australia
enjoying a sustained period of economic prosperity, latest statistics suggest that for many this is not the
“lucky country” and that not nearly enough is being done to care for our vulnerable children. With the release
earlier this month of the National Youth Commission’s report on youth homelessness, there is renewed
hope the issue will be back on the agenda. In a three-part report, Pipeline journalist ANNA THOMPSON
examines youth homelessness, reveals the renewed campaign to address the problem and looks at how
The Salvation Army has recommitted itself to being part of the solution.
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A big day for social justice - smh Matt Buchanan and Louise Schwartzkoff CATE BLANCHETT brought razzle dazzle and Peter Garrett political clout, but both were upstaged at the launch of The Oasis: Homeless Short Film Competition, in Surry Hills yesterday. Bee (surname withheld), a diminutive 22-year-old who barely reached Garretts armpits, explained how she survived homelessness to become the schools liaison officer for The Oasis initiative. Eighteen months ago, Bee was sleeping on friends couches, never sure where she would spend the next night. 'I could not go home to my mum,' she said. 'She constantly asked to borrow money from me to buy food, but when I called her, all I could hear was the incessant sound of poker machines or the slurring in her voice.' With help from the Oasis Youth Support Network, she found a job and a home, and she and her mother are now repairing their relationship. Sharing the stage with Blanchett was surreal, she said. 'Its been a crazy year-and-a-half to go from homelessness to sitting next to Cate.' Blanchett is lending her star power to the competition, which encourages school students to make films about homelessness. The best films will screen at the Sydney Theatre Company in November. 'These kids who pick up these cameras will be the strategists and policymakers and artists of the future,' Blanchett said. 'Film and theatre and visual arts I really strongly believe have an exceptional and unique capacity to spread important social issues and help produce change.'