May 20, 2022

The call for a collaborative vision to address youth homelessness

The call for a collaborative vision to address youth homelessness

I am so pleased to be back working directly on homelessness solutions after almost a decade immersed in the community housing sector. I’m amazed at the persistence and dedication of people working in the sector, in academia, philanthropy and government striving to find ways to end homelessness. I am equally astonished at the persistence of homelessness; that despite more visibility, public attention, research and funding injections for some targeted initiatives, we have still failed to turn off the tap to stem the flow of people who have nowhere stable to live.

The recent Federal and State Parliamentary Committee Inquiries into homelessness have seen no tangible outcomes to direct policy or new resources targeting prevention and early intervention. What is captured in these inquiries is already well known to people in the sector after decades of research, practice development, innovation and numerous inquiries.

We all understand definitions, numbers, causes of homelessness, pathways into homelessness, the damaging impact and the social and economic costs homelessness brings. We understand the reality that ending homelessness for individuals is possible and continue to highlight the range of successful interventions that continue to prove our point.

Demand from people who are homeless is placing great strain on the service system. Great resources have been allocated and fantastic work is being done to assist those who are homeless, especially dealing with the threat of COVID for those most vulnerable. However, this great work to end homelessness for individuals (including people entrenched in rough sleeping) is sadly undermined by the ongoing flow of people who find themselves on the same well-trodden path to homelessness.

The damage of homelessness to individuals and communities is well documented, as is the cost of people in crisis engaged with expensive systems. So why isn’t prevention and early intervention a political and budget priority?

Of course we need to focus on ending homelessness for people who find themselves there. But at the same time we should be heading upstream and turning off the tap to stop others falling into such a costly and damaging crisis. The vast majority of rough sleepers would have had their first experience while young. Therefore preventing youth homelessness will have the most significant impact on reducing future rough sleeping

With the right resourcing, the sector has shown it is not only capable of delivering both emergency and preventative support, we are desperate to do so in order to avoid unnecessary suffering. There are many great initiatives to maintain tenancies and help keep people housed, let’s focus on preventing further homelessness too.

But what is being done to fundamentally ensure we stop the flow of young people into homelessness – be it via family violence, family breakdown, leaving out of home care, leaving justice or leaving other forms of care? The impact of more attention here will save lives for many and for others a lifetime of misery and lost potential. Usually the solution advocated in homelessness is more funding. However, this time the focus needs to be specific about how the funds are allocated. We have all appreciated the Victorian Government investment of the unprecedented $5.3 billion into the Big Housing Build to bring Victoria back to the national average for social housing. Those of us working to tackle youth homelessness have been excited about the recent $50 million funding into housing models, helping divert young people from homelessness. Although this represents less than 1% of the of $5.3 billion of the Big Housing Build, it is a very welcome start. The $50 million funding round must surely be the first of many down payments for youth housing models.

I am so pleased to be at Kids Under Cover, created in 1989 during the Burdekin Inquiry into Youth Homelessness. Attending a forum at Prahran Town Hall during the same inquiry inspired me to focus my work over the next few decades on tackling homelessness. It’s really pleasing to see how far we have come as a community and sector in understanding the dimensions and solutions to homelessness. With the Big Housing Build funding and ongoing innovation, Victoria is poised to return to our once proud place as leaders in this space. However, a key missing ingredient is a Homelessness Prevention Fund. This is something that has been implemented in South Australia, creating a pipeline of funding for us to deliver studios (in partnership with support agencies) into the backyards of families where there is imminent risk of young people becoming homeless. What more does the sector need to do in order for this to become a key plank of Victoria’s Homelessness and Housing Strategies?

Stephen Nash
Chief Executive Officer