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The Home Time campaign — a movement dedicated to ending youth homelessness

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CW: discussions of housing insecurity and domestic violence

“It’s a constant stream of what ifs and worst cases to keep yourself alive and it’s exhausting and it’s terrifying,” says Atlas, describing what their experience was like as a young homeless person in Australia. 

Atlas did not have a place to call home for over four years after being forced to the streets due to family violence. They have requested to use a pseudonym to maintain anonymity for safety reasons.  

Atlas’s story is not unique.

Of the almost 40,000 children and young people who accessed homelessness services nation-wide from 2022-23, 34% of these young people had or were experiencing family and domestic violence. 

In response, the Federal Housing and Homelessness Minister Julie Collins announced this month that the Commonwealth will dedicate the $1 billion National Housing Infrastructure Facility (NHIF) towards creating new housing for homeless youths, as well as women and children escaping domestic violence. 

Treasurer Jim Chalmers revealed last week the cost-of-living measures in the federal budget. 

The budget will provide nearly $2 billion over the next five years to raise the maximum rate of Rent Assistance by an extra 10%.

Such a decision was no doubt influenced by the work of campaigns like Home Time.

The campaign is made up of over 120 homelessness services that have been calling on the federal government to fix housing for young people in three key areas:

  • Develop a national pool of 15,000 tenancies dedicated to young people in need of a home.
  • Provide concurrent support services that enable these young people to have the chance to pursue their personal goals while transitioning to independence. 
  • Make amendments to the current private and social housing system to ensure viability for housing providers and landlords alike who are offering tenancies to young people who are experiencing housing insecurity.  

The recent funding announcements are the first of their kind and look to be moving in a direction that will meet these national targets. However, experts and people experiencing housing insecurity alike believe that it’s not enough.

In particular, they believe that the failure to increase JobSeeker and Youth Allowance payments to a level that covers basic essential costs, including rent, will continue to cause more young people to experience homelessness and limit their ability to break into new rental housing.

 

The rental gap

Atlas explained that their experience of enduring homelessness was a consequence of the rental gap that renders young people unable to secure permanent housing. The reason for this is that young people cannot access government funded housing nor the private market as their incomes are too low.

During Atlas’s four years without a home, they were continuously denied access to any permanent housing. 

“I was on the priority list for social housing for five years… I was told by an emergency housing provider that I needed to apply for a disability support pension to have any hope of accessing government funded housing, because it was very rare for someone on my income [Youth Allowance] to be considered for a house.” 

“I [was] in short-time emergency housing that occasionally was really good and occasionally really bad, and I didn’t, and still don’t, earn enough on Centrelink [JobSeeker] to afford a private rental.”

Social housing providers cannot house young people like Atlas because it is unsustainable due to Youth Allowance being up to 30% lower than JobSeeker. This means that, without the necessary government funding, it’s too expensive to house these young people.

“Disappointing isn’t a word I would use, I find it horrifying,” said Atlas.  

 

The telling figures

Atlas’s story is an example of the alarming statistics that came out in the most recent specialist homelessness service report 2022-23. The data from this report indicates that 44% of the almost 40,000 children and young people who tried to access these homelessness services last year remained homeless. 

Most people would find it impossible to believe that homeless services are having to turn children and young people away who don’t have a home to sleep in. 

However, Shorna Moore, the Head of Policy, Advocacy, and Government Relations at Melbourne City Mission (MCM), says that this is an all-too-common problem for homelessness services. 

“Every year we have thousands of children and young people coming to MCM alone and in crisis and they’re often escaping violence, neglect, homophobia, and transphobia.” 

“We operate 30% of all youth refuge beds in Victoria, and they are full every night… and in most cases people are not even able to get a bed.” 

19 to 24 year olds experience the highest rates of homelessness of any age group in Australia. Moore puts this down to the lack of access young people have to social housing and the private rental market.

Consequently, “15 to 24 year olds represent 15% of the entire homelessness population but only 2-3% have gone into social housing,” says Moore. 

 

A job not yet finished

Although the Home Time campaign has welcomed the use of NHIF to create youth housing and the increase of Commonwealth Rent Assistance, the rental gap still exists and needs to be addressed. 

CEO of Homelessness Australia Kate Colvin says that there is still significant work to be done in addressing the rental gap locking young people out of social and private housing. 

“The income support and housing measures in this Budget will make an important dent in our crisis, however they will not resolve it,” Colvin says. “Australia will continue to have a significant homelessness problem due to the scale of the housing crisis and the flood of need from victim-survivors fleeing violence.”

Experts and young people experiencing homelessness collectively believe that additional government subsidies need to be available to housing providers and landlords alike to open the social and private housing markets up to young people in need of a home. 

Atlas surmised that for the Home Time campaign to see all three of their calls for action met, people need to make their support for the movement heard. 

“It’s important to recognise and acknowledge that being able to speak up and use your voice is a privilege not every Australian has.”

“Young people who are currently experiencing disadvantages who are putting all their energy into surviving may feel silenced right now. And that if you have the power and the space to speak up, it's important to do so with that in mind. If people can, sign on to the Home Time campaign.” 

You can find out more about the Home Time campaign here.

 
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