Imagine for a moment your home and means of support no longer exist and you are left to fend for yourself in an often hostile environment … a third world scenario? Sadly, homelessness is the plight of many people, and it’s the harsh reality for some local youth.
Youth Homelessness Matters Day (YHMD) is a national event across Australia. What is its aim?
The aim of YHMD is to raise public awareness about youth homelessness, but also to celebrate the resilience of young people who have experienced, or are experiencing homelessness in Australia. YHMD has been running for 5 years, and it is building in momentum each year.
> Tell us how YHMD came to be and what has been accomplished so far …
In 2005, some Western Sydney youth workers (including members of Youth Accommodation Association (YAA) NSW) decided that they wanted to be more active during Youth Week and run an event related to youth homelessness. From this idea ‘Youth Homelessness Matters Day’ was born. YAA supported the idea and endorsed the day. YAA also assisted with some funding for events in 2005.
YAA presented the idea at a national level and received a positive response. YHMD was quickly developed into an ongoing campaign, which was endorsed by the National Youth Coalition for Housing (NYCH) (the national peak body for youth homelessness and housing issues) and by Homelessness Australia (the peak body working to prevent and respond to homelessness). In March 2006 NYCH presented the YHMD campaign to Homelessness Australia and it was endorsed by youth homeless services in attendance as an official national campaign.
Young people are the invisible face of homelessness in Australia, as many in the community believe homelessness is just about older people sleeping rough or with alcohol and drug related needs who live on the streets. There remains little awareness of the difficult situations that young people are forced to live with on a daily basis. We have to do something about this!
As long as youth homelessness remains ‘invisible’ in the public imagination, then policies which respond to homelessness will continue to rate as relatively unimportant at a political level – particularly in these current times of risk management and popularist politics. Hence, raising public awareness is an important aspect of YHMD.
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> How bad is the problem of youth homelessness? How many are affected?
Every night across Australia, 100,000 people are homeless. Nearly half of these are under the age of 25. The Port Macquarie–Hastings area has up to 125 young people reported to be homeless on any given night.
Young people and children have become homeless for a variety of reasons – the majority of them are completely out of their control. The reasons include domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, financial hardship, family break-up and abuse.
We know that supported accommodation assistance programs such as supported accommodation, crisis accommodation services and the like are the foundation programs that respond to homelessness, and they have the capacity to support about 15% of these young people.
You do not have to be house-less to be homeless. Homelessness does not just mean sleeping rough on the streets – it is couch surfing, living in overcrowded situations, in unstable situations with friends and extended family, or living in youth accommodation services.
While many are struggling paying off mortgages and high rents, imagine the impact of those who don’t even rate a chance owning a home, renting a property or finding somewhere to live.
There is one in two chance of getting a bed in a crisis accommodation on any given night; however, if all the estimated young homeless people attempted to get a bed on any particular night, this ratio would be far worse.
The pathways in and out of homelessness for a young person are not straightforward and generic. Their needs are complex and require specific adolescent support. Simply getting a job is not always the only answer
Homelessness is not only in one particular area of Sydney, nor is it limited to young people from a certain background. It is across the whole of Australia.
It only costs around $50 a day to accommodate a young person. The costs to the community are far greater by not addressing and responding to homelessness.
Young people are more than just numbers. While we talk about the statistics, every experience of youth homelessness is unique and has a ‘real life story’ attached to it.
> What is the aim of the ‘Sleeping Bag Out’ event that local youth services are holding on the 1st April ‘09 on the Town Green in Port Macquarie?
Youth Workers across the Mid North Coast are planning to have a region wide collaborative event of visual displays in each community from Taree to Coffs Harbour to enable a wider voice for regional and rural homeless young people, as well as help to raise community awareness of the impact of homelessness on young people in these areas.
The Port Macquarie and Kempsey youth services visual event will be the use of sleeping bags to highlight the number of young people experiencing all levels of homelessness; 125 sleeping bags will be displayed at each YHMD event.
Each sleeping bag will have a real life story attached to it, so people can connect to the REALITY of homelessness, as well as the magnitude. The sleeping bags will be donated to homeless people after the event, as the colder months are approaching us quickly.
There will also be a static visual display in local empty shops throughout the whole week.
> What type of activities will be taking place at this event, and who would you like to see in attendance?
There will be a lot of activities happening on the Town Green from 4pm on the 1st April ‘09, including a visual display of the “Sleeping bag Out” which we are hoping to have 125 sleeping bags donated by the community to represent how many young people are experiencing homelessness in our community with their stories expressing their experiences of homelessness, East Port High School drama group, live music from local bands, face painting, games, information stall, the draw of a Mick Campbell surfboard, give-away goodies, and a sausage sizzle.
We would encourage everyone to come along on the evening to learn more about youth homelessness and the effects it has on the youth living in our community.
Read the stories of how young people have strived to overcome their homelessness, plus help us celebrate the resilience of young people who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness.
This is where it all starts – raising community awareness and breaking down the stigma that is attached to homelessness, and for the community to begin to realise that just as all young people are not the same, nor are the people who face homelessness. Overcoming these barriers is necessary for young people to be given the chance to get their lives back on track.
This way we can give youth a voice, so the Government can hear their concerns and the effect homelessness has on young people in rural and regional areas. This, in turn, may assist with future policies and funding, which will give young people the opportunity to gain secure, affordable housing with the right supports in place.
> Who is sponsoring the YHMD event?
A special thanks goes to the Mercure Motel, Jamie West Craig Woodcock, Amy Schwarze, Carol Randall, Port West Rotary Club, East Port High drama group, the young people who have shared their stories, the young musicians who donated their time, Port Hire, Andrew Gawne, ABC raido, all those who donated sleeping bags or monies. Plus the youth workers who have dedicated time and energy to put the event together including, Youth Housing Support MNC INC, Centacare Youth Services, Links to Learning, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, Women and children’s Refuge, Community Area Health and everyone else who has dedicated their time and energy in making the event such a success in our local area. We look forward in making this an annual event in our and look forward to all of your support in the coming years.
> What does (YHMD) hope to achieve in the future?
The aim of YHMD is twofold …
Firstly, we are aiming to raise community awareness and let the community know that there are, in fact, homeless young people in the Hasting Local Government area and …
Secondly, to celebrate the resilience of these young people and show that even with this type of adversity, with the right supports in their lives they are able to achieve incredible things. It’s important to convey that young people who experience homelessness are homeless, but not hopeless!
On a local level, the future goals of YHMD are to emphasise the successes of young people in the Hastings and the importance of sustainable, affordable accommodation for youth in the area.
It is important to point out that the shortfall of affordable accommodation not only affects seniors and middle income earning families, but also young people who are juggling education, employment, and housing options in today’s society.