In the 5 years between the 2011 and 2016 Census, youth homelessness (18-24) has increased a staggering 46% to 27,680. In unaffordability hot-spots like NSW it has increased by 117%, and has even increased in states like Tasmania where the overall rate of homelessness is down. Each of those numbers represents a young life negotiating the transition to adulthood without a safe place to call home.
The reality is that we are failing our young people – sky-high rents, a casualised labour force, deregulated and underfunded higher education are just some of what waits for young people entering adulthood today.
If you’re not yet convinced that we have legislated away the potential for independence – let’s look at the general population for more insight.
Almost 50% of people aged between 18 and 24 are still living with one or both parents. The more expensive the housing market, the more likely they will be at home till 25 or older. Young people today are more pessimistic about their future and need almost 4 more years to move from study to secure work than their parents did. Some will blame young people for being too “entitled” or “lazy”, but the proof is in the socio-economic data.
From Child to Adult with No Family Support
It’s clear we have stacked the odds against young people, but the situation is much worse for those who lack a family support to fall back on. Of the 27,680 young people experiencing homelessness, we know that more than half of those are care leavers.
In Australia, 3,000 young people are evicted from care on their 18th birthday every year. On that day they lose state supported services, like their caseworker and the range of funded services that would support their transition into independence. Tasmania is the first state to increase support for kids in care until 21.
It’s not hard to imagine that a young person in state care already bears the heavy burden of an extremely traumatic childhood. Without the right support, these experiences (often called ‘risk factors’) increase the likelihood of struggling with homelessness, unemployment, mental health, alcohol/drug issues and the courts.
In separate studies the Create Foundation and the Care Leavers Australia Network found that many care leavers transition to independence without major hiccups, but most are really struggling:
- 35% were homeless in the first year of leaving care
- 46% of boys were involved in the criminal justice system
- 29% were unemployed
- 41% of girls were pregnant during their adolescence
- 43% – 65% had poor mental health outcomes (including depression, Anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks and sleep disorders).
Sandeep Varma is the Managing Lawyer at Youthlaw’s Legal Pod Program, one of the supporting organisations in the campaign to extended legal guardianship until 21. “The evidence is loud and clear that this cohort of young people is especially vulnerable, and need a strong safety net, including long-term legal support, to protect them and assist them to flourish.”
The evidence is also there to show that extending support until 21 works. The UK and US faced similar issues with young people leaving care struggling to keep their heads above water. In both countries, where young people stay in care until 21 they have higher rates of education completion, employment, secure housing and less of the bad stuff. Not only that, but those that adopted the policy received a net return on every dollar invested.
What’s the Youthlaw Legal Pod Program?
The Youthlaw Legal Pod Program is about assisting young people to transition from care to independence. Pods of volunteer lawyers will provide the legal assistance many young people need in this transition and help reduce the barriers to moving ahead with life.
Each Pod will commit to supporting a young person for up to 3 years. On entering the program, a legal health check will identify legal problems at an early stage. These include issues like Centrelink, housing, domestic violence, fines, criminal charges, and their employment rights.
The young people will also get help with the basics, like getting into a lease or getting a driver licence. The process is directed by the young person, and Sandeep says the Pod Program is all about empowerment. “Most kids have been in many care placements, and lack trust in the state, adults, and the courts, and have had little say in their life. That’s why it’s really important to tailor services to their needs and to provide consistency, reliability, and trust over time as they become adults.”
A Proven Project That Deserves Support
In 2013 and 2015, StreetSmart helped seed fund the Legal Pod program in QLD and it has shown incredible success – preventing homelessness for every young person they engaged.
“[In]…the eyes of the community I was a dropkick that wouldn’t make it in life but thanks to the support and belief provided by [Legal Pod] I was able to confidently make a change in my lifestyle and change my ways….none of what I accomplished would have been possible without LegalPod guiding me through the entire journey so thank you.” – Legal Pod participant.
Despite proving to be a lifeline for vulnerable young people, the QLD government did not renew core funding in 2017. We were shocked, but not more so than the Legal Pod: “[this] leaves 350 deeply disadvantaged clients with nowhere else to go for their multiple legal problems. The contributions of over 70 pro bono lawyers to effectively assist them are now an untapped resource.”
The merry-go-round of insecure government funding crushes many important, innovative and life-saving programs. While Queensland’s young care-leavers have been left out, in Victoria base funding has been provided to Youthlaw to kick off the Legal Pod Program.
The team at YouthLaw are based in Melbourne and need additional funding to provide outreach services as part of the Legal Pod, to ensure that young people in metro, suburban and regional areas aren’t left behind.
When the moral case and the economic case stack up – there is no good reason to not #MakeIt21
If you believe young people in care shouldn’t be left without support you can donate to our April StreetFunder campaign and share with your networks with the hashtag #MakeIt21 and declare that youth homelessness matters #YHMD2018
If you want to learn more about this issue, here are some useful links to check out:
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Youth Homelessness Matters Day