As the impacts of COVID-19 put even more young people at risk of not having a safe place to live, Youth Homelessness Matters Day aims to raise awareness and public discussion about youth homelessness and is an annual focus of the National Youth Coalition for Housing (NYCH).

According to SYC CEO, Paul Edginton now more than ever, State and Federal governments need to focus on solutions for ‘youth’ homelessness, which he argues needs specialist support beyond just a roof over a young person’s head.

“Homelessness for a young person is very different to that for adults – it is relatively hidden from view with young people more likely to be couch surfing and constantly on the move from one house to the next, rather than visibly rough sleeping on the streets.”

Today Leigh McClusky spoke with Paul Edginton about Youth Homelessness Matters day in the current COVID-19 environment.

“While we commend the State Government and hotel operators for recently making hotel rooms available to rough sleepers, the reality is that young people need so much more support than just a room to call home,” he says.

“They need to be able to safely connect with other young people, access the counselling, advice and support so many of them need, and be in an environment where they can share their concerns and find stability, and that’s where a scheme similar to the one in New South Wales would be ideal.”

The Youth Private Rental Subsidy Program has been operating in New South Wales since 2017 and provides private rental assistance and integrated support for eligible young people, aged between 16 and 24, for a period of up to three years.

“This program has now enabled hundreds of vulnerable young people in NSW to live safely and equally as importantly, by the end of this program they have the capacity to successfully find and maintain a private rental property,” says Mr Edginton.

“It’s a proven model that works in NSW and we know it would work here in South Australia. All we need is a State Government commitment to start funding it.”

Mr Edginton says based on the NSW example, the SA scheme would need an additional low-income housing investment of $2.5 million over the next three years, to get an initial trial underway.

“This would enable us to start with a small trial to allow us to evaluate the results and importantly, the ongoing value to taxpayers,” he says.

“Economically, the stats already show us that keeping young people in sustainable housing is a more cost efficient investment for ratepayers, rather than letting them fall through the cracks with all the ongoing support that young people then need when they fall into homelessness.”

“We know there are always many competing calls on the Government’s funding, particularly now. But these young people are at significantly increased risk as the economy declines and unemployment continues to rise as a result of COVID-19.”

According to Mr Edginton, the youth unemployment rate is already almost two and a half times, the all ages unemployment rate.

“So, if we look at recent speculation that Australia’s broad unemployment could jump as high as 10 per cent, that means we could be looking at a youth unemployment rate of around 23 per cent, which would be devastating to their already limited potential to find or hold a job,” he says.

Mr Edginton says the housing outlook in South Australia is also about to get even tougher with the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) coming to an end in the next 12 months, meaning a significant reduction in subsidized, affordable housing.

“The Federal Government made a bold statement back in 2008, that it was committed to halving homelessness in Australia by 2020.”

“But in SA, we’ve seen the number of young people looking for homelessness support grow by 26 per cent, with more than half of those looking for housing help for the very first time and now across the country we have an estimated  28,000 young people aged between 12 and 24 are homeless on any given night,” says Mr Edginton.

“We simply can’t sit back and accept that as normal, with or without COVID-19 and now is the time to act.”

“We’ve been supporting the community for more than half a century and we want to let them know we’re still here now, when we know so many people need help.”