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Stop blaming young people for being homeless

Young people are often just one bad decision away from homelessness, says Jurek Stopczynski, Regional Leader of Mission Australia in Hobart.

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“We need to identify that it is an ongoing problem and we really need to take away the stigma and some of the perceptions that we’re hearing around homelessness, particularly young people who are homeless,” says Jurek, who works with YouthBeat supporting young homeless people in the Tasmanian capital.

“There often is a sense of blame or a sense of shame put on these people – and we need to understand that, for a lot of them, it’s a matter of circumstance.”

While it’s been said that a lot of people are just one pay cheque away from potential homelessness, for young people without much income “it’s one circumstance or one bad decision or one uneducated decision away from being in this situation. So we need to take away the stigma around this and really address the issues behind it.”

Hobart is the least affordable capital city in Australia when you compare rents to income levels.

This year’s National Homelessness Week, which ends tomorrow, has been aptly themed “housing ends homelessness” and was launched in Tasmania where 1600 people are homeless on any given night. This is just one per cent of the 116,000 people experiencing homelessness nationally, yet Hobart is the least affordable capital city in Australia when you compare rents to income levels.

While Melbourne and Sydney are often the focus of discussion on rising house prices, rental stress is on the rise right across the country, including in Tasmania and in regional areas. As of March 2019, there were more than 3,300 people on the social housing waiting list in Tasmania.

The UNSW City Futures Research Centre estimates that investment in 18,000 social and affordable homes by 2036 could end the crisis not just in Hobart but across the state.

We really need to stop looking at placing blame on people and look at supporting the initiatives that are trying to address the issue.

Jurek tells Eternity that lack of affordable housing is changing the future direction and outlook of many young people in Tasmania, who are often forgoing additional education in order to move out of home and get a job.

He said many homeless young people had not been home for six months because of circumstances such as family violence or drug use or just feeling they don’t belong, leaving them with nowhere else to go.

“YouthBeat is an outreach service to areas where young homeless people are congregating,” he says.

“It’s an engagement service where we put on activities, we put on food, we build trusting relationships. We can’t offer direct support, but we can open up conversations and start making sure their immediate safety and concerns are catered for.”

Jurek says many social housing and essential services are at capacity and there needs to be significant additional investment to deal with the mental health and drug and alcohol abuse issues that are often behind homelessness.

“We’re seeing that young people’s top concern is mental health,” he says.

“Four out of ten in a recent survey named it as their number one concern, as well as their future outlook. That’s a 7 per cent increase on last year, so without significant investment in this space – particularly availability of social and affordable housing – the outlook for young people is pretty bleak.”

“The theme for this homelessness week is ‘increased housing solves homelessness’, so we really need to stop looking at placing blame on people and look at supporting the initiatives that are trying to address the issue.”

 

 

 

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