Father Chris Riley on Youth Homelessness

On Monday November 9, Youth Off The Streets held a special celebration alongside partners Wesley Mission and YWCA NSW to mark the first anniversary of the Inner West Youth Homeless Service (iWYHS). In its first year of operation, we provided over 6,392 supported days of care to young people.

The need for a service like iWYHS goes back a long time. I started Youth Off The Streets in 1990 working with young homeless people through a program I called Street Walk where I would walk the streets at night helping the young and homeless. This was followed by the opening of Don Bosco House in 1991, a place where young people can still go to seek shelter and support.

Since then, we have been working hard to assist young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Throughout that time one thing has always remained the same, kids do not choose to be homeless; it is their volatile circumstances at home that often drive them to the streets, and with over 44,000 young people under 25 homeless in Australia[1], the need for a service such as iWYHS is stronger than ever.

iWYHS supported more than 400 young people from the Inner West in its first year. The structure of the partnership recognises that homelessness is not just about housing, the young people we help are dealing with a range of issues that require our support. Our organisations have different cultures and ways of solving problems, but we have worked well together in supporting the young people of the inner west.

This partnership has changed many lives so far, but as the Hon Anna Bligh, CEO YWCA NSW, pointed out at the event: young people still face problems with housing affordability and suitability.  Even with Government payments like Youth Allowance, young people simply cannot afford to pay for housing. The other problem is the suitability of the housing they can afford, particularly the cheaper boarding houses to which many resort.   Much of the accommodation our young people can afford to access is simply not suitable for their age or their needs. Often the circumstances of other tenants in boarding houses do not assist in the positive development of our young people. Other cheaper accommodation is often so far away from the much needed support services that the young people are unable to access them and return to the homeless cycle.

As a community we need to keep challenging ourselves to find newer, better models that provide long term solutions and take into account the affordability and suitability of housing. Only then can we start to make some inroads into reducing the rate of youth homelessness.

 

[1] Homelessness Australia 2015, Homelessness Statistics. Available from: <http://homelessnessaustralia.org.au/index.php/about-homelessness/homeless-statistics>. [10 November 2015].

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