It’s not everyday that youth homelessness is front page news in South Australia (see Our Lost Homeless Children), but with the number of young people experiencing homelessness increasing it is an issue that is becoming unavoidable and needs a collective Government and community approach to address.

The latest figures collected by Specialist Homelessness Service providers reveal that the numbers of young people accessing homelessness services in the state are increasing. In the past year it was reported that over 5,500 under 18 year olds were provided shelter by homelessness services in South Australia. With our own work through HYPA we’ve seen the increase in young people seeking help first-hand.

In the past year Trace-A-Place, the youth homelessness gateway, saw an increase in the amount of presentations from young people aged 15-25 seeking help from 1335 to 2357.

According to HYPA’s Manager of Homelessness Services Tracey Kamp these are young people who have experienced family or relationship breakdown or some form of housing crisis.

“What we do know is that when many of these young people have fled home or been evicted they don’t have a job or they’re only working a small amount of hours so affording a private rental can be difficult. That leaves them relying on friends and extended family to couch surf or, in some cases, sleeping rough on the street,” she said.

Given this increase in the number of young people accessing homelessness services in the state we’re pleased to announce that we have secured new funding from the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion to compliment the services offered by Trace-A-Place.

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The funding will allow us to operate our Youth Space service – a safe place for young people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. Youth Space will fill a gap for young people by offering a safe space they can come to during the day, something that is currently not available in the Adelaide CBD.

Tracey said this money will allow HYPA to offer a welcome and easily accessible safe place where young people can come.

“Young people will be able to have a meal, a shower, access or recharge a phones, access a computer and the internet as well as engage in planned activities and connect with staff, volunteers and peers,” she said.

We saw the importance of reaching out to young people and letting them know that there is a safe place for them to seek shelter during the recent Adelaide storms with 37 young people accessing Trace-A-Place during this time.

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While the Youth Space will help those young people already experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness, we also strongly believe that their needs to be a focus on early intervention. That means identifying young people who may be at risk early and working with them so they can avoid homelessness in the first place.

To this end we are working with the State Government on the Mount Gambier project, an early intervention pilot program to target youth homelessness in the region. The project is modelled on The Geelong Project, which has achieved solid outcomes in reducing youth homelessness in the Geelong community by bringing together school communities and service providers to appropriately flag young people at risk of homelessness and proactively working with that young person and their family to deal with issues that otherwise may result in homelessness.

The project is just one of the recommendations from our SA Youth Homelessness White Paper, which looked at new and innovative ways to reduce youth homelessness. With this latest increase in the amount of young people accessing Specialist Homelessness Services in the state more of the proposed recommendations should be looked at because it will take a multitude of approaches, like ‘buy-down rents’ and guarantor models, to help tackle youth homelessness.

These recommendations are specifically targeted at one of the causes of youth homelessness, access to affordable housing options. Even when a young person has a job the transition from homelessness to independence remains challenging because the job may not necessarily cover the full cost of living. A ‘buy down rent’ model could see the Government act as the landlord of a property and lower the rent for a period of up to two years, helping a young person gain a sense of stability and security.

The guarantor model would also address an issue specifically highlighted by the latest figures. When a young person is under the age of 18 and may not have access to familial support to act as a guarantor, being accepted as a lessee with no rental record can be challenging.  Creating a system within government that provides young people with a guarantor service could prove invaluable for creating a pathway for young people into the private rental market.

Either way reducing youth homelessness in South Australia requires a multitude of approaches targeted at both those young people who are currently experiencing homelessness as well as those who may be showing early signs of being at risk of homelessness. Both of these groups need to be provided choice because a young person who has choices, whether or not they are at risk or experiencing homelessness, will be in good standing to develop independence and interdependence with their community.