Government investments in social housing could boost Australia’s economy while also addressing the rising rates of homelessness, according to a new survey report.
Mission Australia’s latest report on the experience of homelessness for people aged 15 to 19 found one in six (17.1%) of the 25,126 respondents have been homeless at least once.
Young people who had been homeless were twice as likely as those who hadn’t faced homelessness to have been bullied in the past year, and to report psychological distress, the survey found. They were also nearly four times more likely to feel “sad” or “very sad” with life as a whole (27.2% vs. 7.2%), more likely to express personal concerns about family conflict, financial security, suicide, and coping with stress, and were more likely to identify barriers to achieving their study or work goals (67.8% vs. 44.8%).
The challenges outlined in the report have been exacerbated by COVID-19, the report said, noting that the unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year olds increased to 16.4% in June 2020, from 12.1% in 2019.
The release of the report follows a recent decision by the Victorian government to extend a program to shelter 2000 rough sleepers in hotels during COVID-19 until April.
Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said the survey results have shown how homelessness “unfairly chips away” at the lives, wellbeing and futures of young people.
“If we stand idle, too many young people will continue to be pushed into homelessness and will be on the back-foot as they transition to adulthood. Many will miss out on vital education and employment opportunities as they shift from one inadequate and temporary dwelling to another,” he said.
Toomey urged governments to do “everything it takes” to address youth homelessness, including early intervention and consultation with young people. He said Mission Australia is calling on governments to commit to investing in 500,000 new social and affordable homes by 2030 nationally, including the development of youth-specific social housing options.
“Our experience of COVID-19 has further emphasised that safe, affordable and appropriate housing is essential for a young person’s economic, mental, physical and social wellbeing. While moving towards economic recovery, we anticipate that even more young people will be pushed into homelessness if there remains little investment in social and affordable homes,” he said.
“We need a national homelessness strategy with clear targets to end homelessness and a special focus on youth homelessness, which is designed with young people who have lived expertise of homelessness and the sector.
“There is a current opportunity for government investment in social and affordable housing to not only address the rising rates of homelessness including youth homelessness, but also provide economic stimulus and jobs as the Australian economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Mission Australia has made 33 recommendations to governments, including:
- Develop a National Homelessness Plan with a special focus on young people,
- Adopt a whole-of-government approach to prevent young people becoming homeless when they exit all forms of state care including out of home care, hospitals, drug and alcohol facilities, detention centres and mental health institutions,
- Through whole-of-government coordinated service provision, provide holistic and wrap around supports to young people to address challenges to entering employment such as housing and homelessness, mental illness, alcohol and drug issues and domestic and family violence,
- Fund youth specific housing options including youth foyers,
- Invest in flexible learning models and youth specific employment programs that support young people experiencing homelessness,
- Ensure social security payments are adequate and do not place young people at risk of homelessness,
- Integrate housing and mental health supports for young people,
- Increase social security payments such as Youth Allowance and Commonwealth Rent Assistance, to prevent homelessness and increase housing affordability.