Youth Homelessness: The Facts

Young People Don’t Choose Homelessness

“Homelessness is not just about a roof overhead, it’s about having a stable and secure place to call home. It’s about having a solid foundation upon which young people are afforded the support, the security and the care they need to explore their potential and become happy, healthy and productive members of the community.”

Jo Swift, CEO Kids Under Cover

Young People Don’t Choose Homelessness.

It’s a grave misconception that young people become homeless by choice. The reality is vastly different. The issues that lead someone to become homeless are complex and varied. For at‑risk young people, their lives have become emotionally and often, physically unbearable. Their home life may be burdened by the disadvantages of poverty, neglect, abuse, unemployment, substance abuse, health complications, disability and mental illness. This cycle of events causes some young people to feel there is no other option, but to leave. They are not ready, have nowhere to go and become isolated from mainstream society.

How do young people become homeless?

“Living conditions can make it intolerable for a young person to remain at home, often young people feel they have no choice but to leave, with nowhere to go”

For these young people, their state of homelessness or risk of homelessness has not been the result of choice. Their living situation at home has become emotionally, mentally, even physically unbearable. It is not uncommon for them to be living in homes hampered by the disadvantages of poverty, often further impacted by factors such as:

  • overcrowding;
  • physical health complications;
  • intellectual disabilities; and
  • mental health issues.

Such living conditions can make it intolerable for a young person to remain at home. If they do stay, being able to focus on things like schoolwork and their own health is often beyond their capacity. Even friendships can become compromised, and in some cases, completely abandoned.

What happens to young people who are homeless?

“Without the right support, many will struggle with homelessness their entire lives”

Homeless young people are less likely to stay engaged with school, find jobs, get access to rental housing and maintain friendships. They are more likely to experience depression, poor nutrition, substance abuse and mental health problems. In fact, without the right support, many will struggle with homelessness their entire lives.

Not having a home also puts people on the margins of society where they encounter prejudice and find it difficult to access mainstream services, such as the local doctor. When someone experiences homelessness, they are often denied the opportunity to participate in the community in a meaningful way.

Preventing youth homelessness makes economic sense.

“The annual cost of health and justice services for homeless youth in Australia is $626 million”

From a purely economic perspective, it makes sense to prevent youth homelessness. A recent social return on investment analysis of our prevention programs has shown for every dollar invested in Kids Under Cover’s programs $4.17 is returned in social value – READ MORE

The financial cost of addressing the needs of young people experiencing homelessness can be up to 22 times more per annum than that spent on Kids Under Cover’s youth homelessness prevention programs.  Our studios cost about $10,000 per young person, per annum whereas the cost of supporting young people in the justice or residential housing systems can reach almost $228,000 per year; research from a Swinburne-led study found the annual cost of health and justice services for homeless youth in Australia is $626 million.

This is in addition to the cost of providing support and accommodation services for youth experiencing homelessness.

 Apart from the purely economic rationale, our Studio Program gives a young person the opportunity to remain connected to their families and support networks, providing them with a vital sense of security and space. Once it is no longer needed the studio is relocated to accommodate another young person in need.

“Stable and secure housing is a core human right and basic need”

St Vincent de Paul Society, The Ache for Home

Kids Under Cover was established by Ken Morgan OAM in direct response to the outcomes of the 1989 Senate National Inquiry into Youth Homelessness. The report, produced by the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and chaired by Brian Burdekin, highlighted the need for a preventative approach to youth homelessness.


Since that time there have been several critical pieces of research undertaken in the youth homelessness area. A number of key sources for access to such research are listed below

Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) – National Homelessness Research Agenda

Australian Government National Homelessness Clearinghouse – Research Centre

Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute – Research Library

Australian Human Rights Commission – Housing, Homelessness and Human Rights

Council of Australian Governments (COAG) – Housing and Homelessness

Council to Homeless Persons – Research and Submissions

Homeless Link (UK) – The national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England.

Homeward Trust (Canada) – Homeward Trust Edmonton is a not for profit organization that uses a community-based approach toward the goal of ending homelessness in Edmonton.

LAUNCH Housing – Launch Housing is an independent Melbourne-based provider of housing and homelessness support services formed from the merger of HomeGround Services and Hanover.

Auerswald et al. (2016), Six-year mortality in a street-recruited cohort of homeless youth in San Francisco, California. PeerJ 4:e1909; DOI 10.7717/peerj.1909

Crerar, Carlee (2006). A Survey of Homeless Youth in Edmonton. Boyle Street Community Services (Canada).

Gulliver-Garcia, Tanya. (2016). Putting an End to Child & Family Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Raising the Roof. Putting an End to Child & Family Homelessness in Canada (2016) .

Homeless Watch (2013). A high price to pay – the impact of benefit sanctions on homeless people.

Jackson, Emma. (9 February, 2016). We are on the brink of a homelessness crisis among young people. The Guardian online. [Jackson is the author of the ethnography Young homeless people and urban space: fixed in mobility. Published by Routledge 2015]

Jackson, Margot, Richter, Solina & Vera Caine  (2012). A visual narrative inquiry into the experiences of youth who are homeless and seek mental health care.

Johnson, Guy & Chris Chamberlain (2008). From youth to adult homelessness. Australian Journal of Social Issues Vol. 43 No. 4 Summer, pp. 563-582.

MacKenzie, David & Chris Chamberlain (2008). Youth homelessness in Australia 2006. Commonwealth of Australia. First published (2006) as Counting the Homeless 2006 project.

MacKenzie, David, Flatau, Paul, Steen, Adam & Monica Thielking (2016). The cost of youth homelessness in Australia: research briefing. Swinburne University of Technology.

Mission Australia (2016). Home and Away: Child and Youth Homelessness Report.

Mission Australia (2011). Seen and Heard: putting children on the homelessness agenda.

Noble, Amanda (2015). Beyond Housing First: A Holistic Response to Family Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Raising the Roof.

Redmond, Gerry, Skattebol, Jennifer et al (2016). Are the kids alright? Young Australians in their middle years: Final summary report of the Australian Child Wellbeing Project. Flinders University, UNSW Australia, Australian Council for Educational Research.

Terunawidjaja, Rita. (2016). The Ache for Home – a plan to address chronic homelessness and housing unaffordability in Australia. St Vincent de Paul Society, Melbourne.

Wood, Gavin, Batterham, Deb, Cigdem, Melek & Shelley Mallett (2015). The structural drivers of homelessness in Australia 2001–11. Report 1 of 2

Wood, Gavin, Batterham, Deb, Cigdem, Melek & Shelley Mallett (2015). The structural drivers of homelessness in Australia 2001–11. Report 2 of 2

ABC Fact File (2016). The ABC produced a “fact file” on homelessness which has a good overview of the facts and figures. (2016)

Hidden and Homeless (2015). Rapper Professor Green aka Stephen Manderson explores the harsh realities facing homeless people in the UK in his BBC documentary.