Saturday 10th October is World Homeless Day, a day when we can pause to give thought to those less fortunate than ourselves, those who do not have a place to call home.  For most of us, such a situation occurring in our own lives is almost unthinkable, and yet it’s surprisingly easy for people to become homeless, much easier than you might think.

This is especially the case for young people.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2011 that 42 per cent of the homeless population in Australia comprises young people up to the age of 24.  Within this cohort, the highest rate of service use is by young women aged between 18 and 25.  In South Australia, approximately one quarter of people accessing homelessness services are aged between 15 and 25, with nearly two thirds of these people being female.

Adelaide-based not for profit organisation SYC Limited (SYC) has been working with young people experiencing homelessness for more than 50 years through its youth services division, HYPA (Helping Young People Achieve).  Such experience has made it clear that homelessness for a young person is quite different to homelessness for an older person.

SYC CEO Paul Edginton explains why.

“The resilience and capacity of a young person to respond to the situation of heading towards or experiencing homelessness is lower than for many older people” Mr Edginton said.

“Being under 25 years of age, a young person is only just starting to forge their independence and self-identity, which places this group at greater vulnerability and impacts on their reactions to situations.”

A landmark study led by Swinburne University of Technology, in partnership with University of Western Australia, Charles Sturt University, Salvation Army, Mission Australia and Anglicare NSW South and West, and ACT, was conducted to better understand the experience, impact and support needs of homeless youth and provides further valuable insight.

Called The Cost of Youth Homelessness in Australia, the ensuing report on findings, released in February 2015, revealed the extreme difficulties faced by homeless young people.

Around 400 young people were surveyed over a period of 3 years, nearly 300 of whom were either homeless or at very high risk of homelessness, in an unstable housing situation and receiving support from homeless services at the time of first interview.

A few of the key findings highlight the particular plight that young people experience on their pathway to facing homelessness.

For example, nearly two-thirds (63%) of the homeless youth who were surveyed had been placed in some form of out-of-home care by the time that they had turned 18, and over a third (39%) reported police coming to their home because of violence between parents on one or more occasions, with 14% experiencing police coming to their house more than 10 times.

These findings perhaps make it unsurprising, then, that the prevalence of mental health conditions was high among the group, with 53% reporting that they had been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition in their lifetime. Mood disorders and anxiety disorders were the most prevalent disorders among homeless youth.

Mr Edginton stressed that these young people are just like other young people who are not experiencing homelessness.

“These are young people with goals and dreams like anybody else…but their ability to achieve them is compromised” Mr Edginton said.

“The support required to get a young person back on their feet so they can achieve their goals and dreams is quite complex.

“At SYC, through our youth services division, HYPA, we focus on helping young people to stand on their own two feet, and helping them through the experience of homelessness is a crucial part of achieving that.  We invite any young people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness to get in touch and seek assistance” Mr. Edginton concluded.

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, contact HYPA on 1300 306046 or visit www.hypa.net.au for more information.