Youth homelessness

What is homelessness?

It’s common for people to think that all homeless people sleep on the streets. But street sleeping, or rough sleeping, is only a small part of the problem of homelessness in Victoria. Homelessness is about not having a home, which means having a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety and the ability to control your living space.

For more information on the definition of homelessness, visit this page on the CHP website.

Where do young people stay when they become homeless?

When a young person becomes homeless (either because they have to leave home or their whole family becomes homeless) they might stay temporarily with friends, family or people they don’t know very well. This is often called ‘couch surfing’ which might sound harmless, but in reality you don’t have your own space, privacy or security and it can also be dangerous.

Others find emergency accommodation in refuges, government-funded transitional housing, rooming houses, hostels or motels. Some young people who become homeless might have to sleep rough in squats, cars or public spaces for a period of time.

How many young people are homeless?

The 2011 ABS Census estimates that 26,238 Australians aged 12-24 are homeless on any given night – 6,130 of those young people are living in Victoria. Over 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness on any given night are under 24 years old.

The ABS estimates a further 22, 443 young Australians are living in caravan parks, overcrowded dwellings (as opposed to severely overcrowded) or improvised dwellings, such as sheds or garages. Such living arrangements are often unsafe, unsuitable and place people at high risk of becoming homeless.

However, the ABS has stated that “homeless estimates for youth are likely to have been underestimated in the Census,” so the number could be much higher. This is because if a young person is staying temporarily with someone on census night, often it’s not made clear that they are homeless, and their usual home address is recorded. This may be because the young person doesn’t want anyone to know they can’t go home, or the person who fills out the census on behalf of the young person assumes they will return to their home.

In Victoria during the period 2014-15, 19,906 people aged 15 to 24 years old sought help from homelessness services. This represents 19% of all people assisted.

What are some of the reasons a young person might become homeless?

Most young people who become homeless have been forced to leave their home due to family breakdown, violence, or when their family is forced into homelessness following a crisis.

There are a number of other well established risk factors that cause young people to become homeless such as mental health issues, substance misuse (by themselves or their parents) and family violence, most of which contribute to family breakdown.

We also know that young people leaving juvenile detention centres and out of home care face a high risk of becoming homeless. A Melbourne study found 40% of young people who transition from youth homelessness to adult homelessness had been in out of home care.

Stopping young people from becoming homeless is sometimes referred to as prevention and/or early intervention. If we don’t do these things well by providing support when it’s first needed, at risk young people can end up becoming homeless.

What impact can homelessness have on a young person’s life?

Young people may move in and out of homelessness. Some are homelessness for short periods of time, others for many years.

Young people who are homeless often experience poor mental health, poverty, trauma, substance abuse, social isolation and are victims of violence. Young people who are homeless are more likely to have involvement with the juvenile justice system. These issues make it more difficult to escape homelessness.

We know that if young people experience homelessness, they are more likely to be homeless long term. Many adults who have experienced long term homelessness (sometimes referred to as chronic homelessness) were homeless at some stage when they were young. In simple terms, if you experience homelessness when you’re young, you are much more likely to experience long term homelessness as an adult. Therefore, it’s important that young people get the assistance they need as soon as they need it.

How can we end youth homelessness?

Ending youth homelessness is a big challenge made up of two components, being the individual and broader social levels. At the individual level we prevent at risk young people from becoming homeless, or help those who have become homeless to escape it.

For young people at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness the most effective responses include:

  • Ensuring those at risk get the right assistance as soon as they need it;
  • Support to access and maintain education, training and employment;
  • Giving young people good, clear information about what help is out there and how to access it;
  • Support to access safe, stable and affordable accommodation;
  • Support to maintain connection to family;
  • Support to stay connected with their communities and support networks;
  • Assistance to recognise the concept of interdependence with others (as opposed to independence);
  • Recognising different needs for different ages and stages of adolescent development;
  • Ensuring that support is respectful and responsive to the needs of the young person;

The second level is to consider the ‘bigger picture’ community level. This includes government policies like the rate of Youth Allowance, the service system in place to respond to youth homelessness and broader factors such as the economy and affordability of housing.

This level can seem more remote or difficult to influence; however, what we can all do is get informed about youth homelessness and talk about it with our friends and families. We can help raise community awareness and make homelessness everybody’s business. If the community cares about youth homelessness enough to make it a priority, there will be pressure on governments to fix the problem.

If you would like to do something you can get involved with Youth Homelessness Matters Day, an annual event to raise public awareness about youth homelessness and the factors that cause it.

If you would like more information on ending homelessness you can read CHP’s Framework for Ending Homelessness.


Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness 2011, Cat. No. 2049, Canberra: AIHW.

Johnson, G & Chamberlain, C. (2008) From Youth to Adult Homelessness, Australian Journal of Social Issues Vol.43, 4, p. 563-582

COAG Reform Council 2012, Skills and Workforce Development 2011: Comparing performance across Australia, COAG Reform Council, Sydney.

Johnson, G. Gronda, H. & Coutts, S. 2008, On the Outside: Pathways in and out of homelessness. Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015, Specialist Homelessness Services 2014-2015, Cat. No. HOUI 267. Canberra: AIHW.