Poverty is both a cause and consequence of youth homelessness. While not all young people who identify as homeless have experienced poverty, it is the overwhelming contributing factor.

It is clear that young people experiencing homelessness will face a future of poverty, unless appropriate intervention is provided. Early intervention can not only help break the cycle of poverty for future generations, but improve the personal wellbeing of young people and their contribution to the community as well.

The issue of youth homelessness is much broader than rough sleeping, but this is often a go to issue for policy makers when considering ways to address it. In 2015-16 it only accounted for under 10 percent of homeless young people in Australia. The issue of youth homelessness is much broader and more hidden than rough sleeping. Young people are experiencing greater levels of poverty than the community is aware of.

Couch surfing is a difficult aspect of youth homelessness to monitor because these young people do not always connect with services and can often fall through the cracks. This is an unsafe and temporary living arrangement and, without intervention, these young people will face a life of poverty. Evidence collected from our clients suggests that young people are living in poverty for a longer period of time and will only seek assistance once they have exhausted all other temporary living arrangements. HYPA works with young people experiencing all forms of homelessness to change the course of their life and help them create a prosperous future.

The influencing factors contributing to poverty include the high cost of living, high unemployment rates, inadequate income support and lack of economic growth. Poverty is also an overwhelming factor for domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and social isolation, which are some of the reasons many young people leave their home and become homeless in the first place. The Cost of Youth Homelessness report suggests that one third of all homeless young people experience violence in the home and almost two thirds of youth surveyed had experienced out-of-home care in their childhood. Unstable family arrangements often leads to a trajectory to poverty and homelessness.

A solution for youth homelessness isn’t as simple as providing accommodation. HYPA focuses its work across four areas- home, wellbeing, learning and working that collectively supports a young person through the initial crisis point of the homelessness spectrum, then focuses on supporting them from a place of need to one of independence. Young people, like the generations before them, need to learn fundamental life-skills and self-confidence to care for themselves – without positive role-models or intermediary service supports, poverty is the likely outcome. Our services address these barriers and work with young people to teach them these core skills that many take for granted.

Early intervention is the most effective approach to gain long-term independence for young people. Our collective approach across the four focus areas not only meets their immediate needs, but also helps prepare them for the future. Crisis care in the form of secure stable housing and case management is vital for young people when they present to us, but building relationships and providing ongoing support for independent living and learning is crucial.

Transitioning young people from a life of homelessness can be a complex journey, but young people have incredible resilience and the strength and capacity to create positive change in their lives. When young people are given the opportunity to build independent living skills, employability skills and confidence in their abilities, they can reach their goals and aspirations.

An example of this is Belinda who presented to HYPA after a family breakdown and had nowhere safe or stable to live. She was couch surfing for a period of time and when she found herself with nowhere else to go, she slept in her cousin’s car. HYPA was able to support Belinda with her immediate needs upon presentation and she has since moved into supported accommodation. Belinda is now planning for her future and has goals to study at TAFE and gain employment.

“Often we would come and get breakfast, lunch and dinner sorted. It helped to get us through a rough time,” Belinda said.

“I have never been turned down or told no here.”

Belinda is currently on a pathway out of homelessness and will be supported by HYPA for the period she needs to become independent.

Poverty is an ongoing intergenerational problem that will continue unless intervention and reform is implemented.  By connecting with and supporting young people today we are stopping the cycle of poverty and changing the lives of generations to come.

Published in the July edition of Parity magazine– Poverty and Homelessness; The Elephant in the Room