August 8, 2013

Joely Mitchell


Homelessness- The state or condition of having no home

It’s a pretty simple definition, but such a complex issue.

Let me enlighten you on the hidden problem of homelessness- WHO is homeless.

It’s pretty easy to imagine a stereotypical homeless person; I can predict that you’re all imagining a scruffy homeless man like those that you see on the city streets. But what about the other type; blonde, well-dressed, funny but shy. Sound familiar? The stereotype of homelessness is far from accurate, not every homeless person has a beard; some have loving families, great social lives and a wardrobe full of clothes.

The prevalence of young people who no longer live at home is the hidden problem of homelessness. The decision to leave home is usually influenced by family conflict. I don’t think that anyone can say that they’ve never had an argument with a parent or sibling resulting in the desire to move out of home to get away.

According to Liz Wyndham, Youth Project Officer for Banyule Youth Service’s new homelessness program, Time Out, young people’s experience of homelessness is usually characterised by ‘couch surfing’. This is where the individual stays at numerous friends’ or acquaintances’ houses for short periods of time simply to put a roof over their head. Liz describes this as an uncertain way of living as there is no guarantee of a couch to sleep on every night.

Additionally, these ‘couch-surfers’ will struggle to remain connected to school and the community, resulting in a significant risk of dropping out of school early. Having no home and no education is a disastrous combination that will dramatically affect that young person’s future.

Are you ready for the stats? The most recent local survey in the Banyule area was completed in 2009 and published as the “Wearing Out Your Welcome” report in 2010. Nearly 7,000 young people were surveyed and the research found that one in ten secondary school students were at risk of homelessness. When I was at high school there were thousands of students, I’m not good at maths, but even I know what that means.

The part that makes me saddest is that these young people are so seemingly happy that their personal issues go under the radar.

A couple of months ago I spent some time at Melbourne City Mission’s Sleep at the G, an event raising funds and awareness for youth homelessness. The turnout was incredible, hundreds of Melbournians sacrificing their warm beds at home in the name of charity. I spoke to the Event Manager, who works for Front Yard Youth Services, a charity which raises money for those between the ages of 12 and 25; he promised that “all of the event money is going to help the disadvantaged in Melbourne”.

Slightly closer to home, Banyule Youth Services have launched a new service to support young people who are living out of home, Time Out. The program provides short-term financial support to those in need, support to families who are informally hosting young people who have left home and advice and access to specialist support services.

I hate that this piece isn’t very hopeful and encouraging, so let’s try to leave it on a positive note. Don’t forget that one in ten high school students are at risk of being homeless. Don’t think that you and your friends are bullet proof. If you are concerned about the welfare of a friend, remember that there is always help available and hey, maybe some of that help will come from you.

– Joely Mitchell

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