Looking for homelessness or housing support? Find Help

by Hope Street Youth and Family Services

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.

Young people and homelessness

Hope Street Youth and Family Services aims to integrate young people’s insights, learnings, ideas, concerns and experiences in a variety of formats to provide a continuous cycle of feedback that leads to program and service delivery improvement. In this spirit, a team member recently spent time with young people undertaking the activity of developing a letter to the Premier of Victoria.

The goal was to provide a platform for young people with lived experience of housing disruption that could be shared with the Premier. Young letter writers also wanted to provide the Premier with an insight into the issues that impact young people experiencing homelessness and have experienced the homelessness service system, from which they have ideas, opinions and recommendations about existing supports/solutions that need improvement or new solutions that could be created.

The following are excerpts from three letters:

1. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be kicked out of home. Walking out was the hardest decision we (my sister and I) had to make leaving the family home, but at the same time, it was the best thing we did. We left our beloved cats, our bedrooms, our home, and everything we knew about our life. We knew we hit rock bottom living at home. We couldn’t live like that anymore. The best thing we did was to leave. Now we can live in peace. We made the right choice even though it was the hardest. Adults have 1800 Respect for family violence, we don’t have this for young people. Young people need something like this to turn to. Having this space can assist young people with housing, beds, reconnecting with family and support for homelessness. As a young person, I would be happy to be a part of this, helping others as I have the lived experience. Who do young people call when they experience family violence? I love where I am now. It is a safe place. We know we are in a safe place.

2. I want the Premier to know that by the age of 16 years I had experienced family breakdown, sleeping rough and couch surfing, family violence and disengagement from school. A support system was what I was lacking in my life when I experienced homelessness. Not having my family around me was one of the most difficult times of my life. Experiencing homelessness at such a young age was hard. A young person needs the support of family to make them feel important and just to know that they are there to help you with what you need. Politicians and decision makers can help a young person like me by creating more youth friendly spaces where young people can go. Politicians need to make youth specific housing services available in each community so young people don’t have to travel out of their area. I knew of a young person who came from the inner northern suburbs but was given refuge accommodation in Melton. I live in an area that makes me comfortable. I am close to the bus stop, swimming pool, local shopping centre and community services. Being close to everything when you don’t have a licence or car really helps.

3. When I was 16, I ran away from home. I travelled to Melbourne all the way from Adelaide. I experienced family breakdown, family violence, I disengaged from school, and I slept on the streets. It was so hard being so young in that situation. Not knowing what to do or where to go. It’s important that the politicians know that when I arrived in Melbourne, I experienced a secondary hardship when accessing the services. I was told I was either too young to access the service, out of area or that I needed to go back to an access point only to be told to go back to where I had come from. The feeling of being bounced back and forth between services was frustrating and disheartening. To help other young people, youth services need to work together, waiting lists need to decrease and there should be more options for accommodating young people in refuges and in long term accommodation. What I love about where I live is the community aspect of togetherness and being supported by your peers and sharing the same experience. (Hope Street in Melton Foyer-like Model)

The three letters reviewed in this article have highlighted the following:

1. Family, family violence and family breakdown

The common theme of family was evident in the three participants’ letters and demonstrates the loss young people experience through the breakdown of family supports. The loss of family and the absence of unconditional support and love from family members further isolates and adds to the experiences of trauma.

2. Sleeping rough/ couch surfing/sleeping on the streets

Youth homelessness services are not the first place for young people to seek support. Support is provided through family, friends, and others. Two young people reported sleeping rough, couch surfing and sleeping on the streets prior to receiving homelessness support. These options place young people in at-risk positions adding to the experience of trauma to their already young lives.

3. Disengagement from school

Education was also a common theme: two young people wanted to tell the Premier that they became disengaged from school. Keeping young people engaged with their educational providers or providing options for young people to maintain their education would be highly beneficial.

Education provides stability, structure, and purpose as a student, anonymity of a person’s situation and, for some, trusted adult support. At Hope Street, young people in education often share that maintaining connection to education is also an important connection with friends, reducing their isolation. The team at Hope Street witness some young people going to extraordinary lengths to maintain their education, such as travelling on public transport for more than an hour one way to simply get to school when they are accommodated outside of their local school enrolment area.

4. Youth Emergency Line (YEL) (Shared experiences — peer support)

Not knowing where to go for support or assistance and not knowing how to navigate service systems is also a theme and a highly common experience that young people at Hope Street talk about. The advertising or promoting of youth specific crisis support and crisis accommodation services is critical and lacking. It is also a common experience for young people who are not in contact with Hope Street, as identified via youth consultations led by the Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) to inform the Youth Strategy that it is currently developing.

An innovative solution to increasing reach from vulnerable and at-risk young people is establishing a well-resourced and responsive youth-tailored ‘Emergency’ line. The Youth Emergency Line (YEL) could include trained young people who have a lived experience of homelessness and utilise communication mediums appealing to young people; for example, texting. Unlike other help lines, the YEL would have expertise in the complex socio-economic issues experienced by 16 to 25-year-olds, including the impact on their children.

5. Feeling safe

All the young people involved in this project reported the need to feel safe. Hope Street Youth and Family Services co‑designed its purpose-built youth refuge in Melton with young people to ensure its design and layout ensured young people feel safe. It includes open plan communal areas, high ceilings, large windows and doors that let in natural light, separate rooms for soothing art and crafts activities, gaming, music, as well as outdoor landscaped garden areas with incorporated paths and spaces for solitude. The bedrooms all offer individual rooms with ensuites, high ceilings, natural light and desk space. Supportive professional staff are employed and present on site 24/7.

The staff model consistent behaviour management, collaborative and positive team dynamics, professional boundaries and conduct. All staff are trained to defuse situations so unsafe behaviour does not escalate. Safety is also maintained through fencing, cameras, remote access and on call support.

The effects of losing family and home can challenge young people in forming trusting and respectful relationships, negatively impacting their mental health and wellbeing. As observed by the Hope Street teams and often shared by young people, when young people feel safe, they find it easier to relax and focus on work, education and coping with and addressing their trauma experiences.

Community awareness and building the capacity of existing services to better respond to young people is possible. More can be done to increase understanding of the impacts of trauma. Hope Street encourages shared learnings and capacity building with stakeholders for better service responses to young people from systems, programs and. Learnings shared may include how young people’s experience of trauma can be increased if they are not given a safe and supported place to live where they are holistically at the centre and paramount to the services provided. That when they are in a safe and supportive place, young people are more likely to take the time to begin to heal and to share and explore their lived experiences.

Although the service system can never replace a young person’s family, governments can raise community awareness through campaigns such as the Respect campaign, Organisations can ensure that all staff have undertaken family sensitive training, that they understand grief and loss of young people separated from family and be trained in the experiences and impact of trauma for young people, and attend and participate in events that replicate some of the experiences of rough sleeping like ‘Sleep Under the Stars’.

It is important to establish relationships with educational providers and the student support services teams. Young people connected with Hope Street have said they need to know who to contact. They do not want to be treated as a case and asked the same questions repeatedly, Where were you last living? Why are you in this region?, when what they want and need is shelter and safety.

Lived Experience and Hope Street

Hope Street is committed to supporting community, homelessness and allied sector services to value youth-focused practice and work toward capacity building of workers serving young people (including in adult services) for improved service delivery. Wouldn’t it be great if we could offer a Youth Emergency Line where a young person could talk with someone who has shared the experience of navigating the youth homelessness system.

Young people need to be afforded the time to feel safe. When they don’t, they can experience increased mental health challenges, risky behaviour, abuse of substances and increased isolation and trauma. A young person’s sense of feeling safe needs to underpin all the supports and programs that are provided to young people experiencing homelessness.

As a Program Manager of the innovative First Response Youth Service model and one of the first youth foyer-like models (both in Melton), I am committed to continually improving our understanding of and responsiveness to youth homelessness. Staff training and development requirements are regularly reviewed, in line with trauma informed practice and training that has focus on family, education, peer support and safety.

The project of asking young people to share their lived experience of homelessness direct to the Premier of Victoria is a great opportunity. It allows government and services to take on board the feedback without directly asking young people to provide a critical reflection of the program that is providing them with essential services while they are extremely vulnerable. Young people often report that having a voice, knowing people are interested in and value their experiences, opinions and ideas, is empowering and builds their sense of self-worth.

The young people look forward to sending their letters to the Hon Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, and receiving his response.

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.

Subscribe to CHP eNews

Get the latest homelessness insights and updates straight to your inbox with Council to Homeless Persons eNews.