The theme for Youth Homelessness Matters Day 2021 is The Future of Youth Housing. As two in five people seeking support from Australian homelessness services are under 25, young people’s housing needs and situations require focused attention from local and national governments. Council to Homeless Persons is using this Youth Homelessness Matters Day to reflect on the experiences of young people as they navigate Australia’s housing market and homelessness system, and to promote discussion on what is required to support young people as they navigate the pathway to adulthood.
Young people and housing
Many people experience difficulties in securing or retaining a home on the private rental market. House prices across Australian cities and regions are rising, resulting in fiercer competition for affordable properties — particularly at the lower end of the market. The Covid-19 pandemic has deepened these affordability issues, with rental vacancy rates at an all-time low in many areas.
For young people, structural factors such as social inequality, unemployment, and underemployment can often add to these difficulties. Young people have a higher unemployment rate than any other age group, and government income support in the form of Youth Allowance remains below the poverty line.
If a young person is employed, their wages are likely to be much lower, as youth wages are a fraction of the adult minimum wage. As a result, young people are less likely to have savings to draw from — nor are they likely to have rental references as young people starting out their independent lives.
These factors can all lead to discrimination when applying for properties on the private rental market. Across Australian cities and towns, this can result in young people being unable to access appropriate and affordable housing.
Against this background, if a young person is unable to continue living in their family home — which can happen for a range of reasons including domestic and family violence, relationship breakdowns, and financial difficulties — they are far more likely to experience homelessness than others.
Young people and homelessness
In 2019–20, almost 42,400 young people aged 15 to 24 presented alone to Australian Specialist Homelessness Services.
Young people experience homelessness differently to the adult population. For example, almost one third of young people presenting to homelessness services in 2019-20 were couch surfing with friends or family — which is much higher than the overall population of people experiencing homelessness.
Young people experiencing homelessness are also more likely be living in overcrowded dwellings or in temporary crisis accommodation, but less likely to be rough sleeping or living in social housing than other age groups.
Many young people don’t recognise themselves as experiencing homelessness, particularly if they are couch surfing, and so the true figure of youth homelessness in Australia is likely to be much higher than the number of people seeking support from services.
Seeking support as a young person
Young people made up just 2.9 per cent of the total main tenants in Australian social housing in 2019. Long social housing waitlists mean that most young people have to wait for many years for housing, who in the meantime must resort to living in temporary accommodation or unstable environments.
A young person experiencing homelessness may be able to access homelessness supports targeted at young people, however this is provided within a system that is primarily designed for adults. While there are some excellent youth services operating across the country, too often emergency accommodation assumes the individual can live independently, or that people need only a brief period of support to resolve a momentary crisis.
This is often not the case for young people, who may need more time and support to access housing, develop independence, and resolve any trauma that led them to experiencing homelessness initially. Therefore, young people seeking homelessness and housing support are more likely to require additional guidance and support to understand their needs, to develop life skills, and to set goals for the future. This could include goals for education, employment and training, as well as relationships, self-development, and independence.
Impacts of homelessness on young people
Young people are a vulnerable cohort, and experiences of homelessness can have significant impacts. Without the stability of a home, many of the issues that lead a young person to experience homelessness may go unresolved.
During the period of transition from childhood to adulthood, young people develop their sense of personal identity, their understanding of interpersonal relationships and boundaries, and their level of independence from adults. A stable environment with positive support systems — things which a safe and secure home can provide — are an essential foundation for this stage of a young person’s development.
This means that experiencing homelessness as a young person can have acute and long-lasting effects. Young people without a home are more likely to disengage with education and employment, and to be exposed to factors which are detrimental to their health such as substance misuse, violence, trauma, and inadequate nutrition.
Young people without a home are more likely to experience poor mental health, social isolation, and poverty, which can have compounding effects if unaddressed.
The future of youth housing
Many advocacy groups in Australia and worldwide are calling for more focus on the needs of young people and their housing situations.
If a young person experiences homelessness, targeted and appropriate support should aim to meaningfully provide the care and guidance required for young people to stabilise, and develop independent living skills and goals.
In Victoria, the $5.3 billion social housing investment announced in 2020 will begin to meet the gap in social housing, but new homes developed need to be designed for and with young people.
Nationally, the Federal Government must immediately step up to boost state funding with its own social housing investment, as well as implement policy and planning measures to increase the availability of affordable housing across the country.
Income support for young people, in the form of Youth Allowance and JobSeeker, must be lifted above the poverty line. This would mean that young people are able to afford rent and the essentials, and would help to circumvent the discrimination young people often experience in the private housing market.
Learn more about the future of youth housing
These are only a few of the many proposals and mechanisms that could help improve the landscape for young people experiencing homelessness in Australia.
Join the Council to Homeless Persons team alongside sector experts and people with lived experience of homelessness in a special Youth Homelessness Matters Day event, exploring the question, “what is the future of youth housing?”.
The event will also include the launch of Parity magazine’s special Youth Homelessness Matters Day issue, exploring what the future of youth housing looks like in Australia. It is open to all, and free to attend – register here.