CEO Blog - 13 April 2016

Ladder CEO Elisabeth Tuckey calls for a better balance between crisis and early intervention support

If not now, when?

When will we start to make serious and significant inroads to reduce the outrageous rates of youth homelessness in this country?

When we will we recognise that the impacts of youth homelessness are being felt across all communities, regardless of demographic, socioeconomic profile or location?

When will we say enough is enough?

On any given night in Australia – an affluent country with an underlying sense of social justice and a fair go – more than 26,000 young people will experience homelessness. These young people are finding spots on a mate’s couch, spending the night in the cars, sleeping rough on our streets, resorting to hostels that are no place for a young person or, if they are lucky, in a bed in crisis accommodation.

Overwhelmingly they are there because of family breakdown, whether that be family violence, conflict, abuse or untenable living conditions.

The figures are shocking. Young women have the highest rates of need from homelessness services, with one in 42 women falling into this category. Young people who grow up in poverty are more likely to experience homelessness and continue the intergenerational high rates of unemployment and disadvantage. Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women have rates of homelessness so high that we should be talking about this as a national tragedy. If a young person is from a refugee background, the chances of experiencing homelessness is six times more likely than the general population. Once homeless, young LGBTQI people frequently experience both direct homophobia in the form of harassment and abuse within housing services, and indirect discrimination as their needs are ignored or neglected within services.

Young people who are exiting out of home care and juvenile justice settings are particularly at risk, with as many as 40 per cent transitioning into homelessness.

This is not the future I want for the young people of this country. But this is what they are facing at the moment.

So what do we do?

Today is national Youth Homelessness Matters Day and there will be calls for increased investment into youth homelessness services. There is a genuine and pressing case for this to happen and I welcome the Victorian Government’s family violence package announced today.

The focus of efforts in youth homelessness is predominantly at the crisis end where young people are needing immediate help. There will always be a need for this type of support. But why are young people in that situation in the first place?

We need to put genuine effort into early intervention. In other words, young people who are at risk of experiencing homelessness must receive the support they need to break what can become the relentless cycle of disadvantage.

A revolution occurred in the last decade in youth mental health, where there has been a substantial shift in thinking and large funding for early intervention services to support young people before they become seriously unwell. I believe the same needs to happen for youth homelessness.

Why do we wait for a young person to become a statistic before we provide them with support and a potential way out? Why do we force them to navigate a system that, while well intentioned, is complex, overwhelmed, at times inappropriate for young people and often inflexible?

We need to strike a better balance between early intervention and crisis support so that young people who are at risk can avoid experiencing homelessness and those who do fall through the cracks have a safety net.

There is no question that a safe place to call home is an absolute priority for young people experiencing homelessness. However; the time has come for us to draw a line in the sand and reconfigure a system that, unintentionally or otherwise, forces young people into a narrative that tags them as disadvantaged, homeless and in need of help.

For the most part it comes from a strength-based approach that works with young people to identify their specific needs and supports them to achieve self-determination before they become one of the appalling, but largely faceless, statistics of youth homelessness.

It’s time for a revolution.

Elisabeth Tuckey