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New study reveals one in six teenagers have experienced homelessness

Homeless woes: “We’re seeing so much social isolation and loneliness.”

THIS week is Homeless Week, and as the chilling westerly winds descend on south east Queensland spare a thought for the young families, teenagers and vulnerable adults out in the cold.

On any night, thousands of Queenslanders are couch surfing in someone’s living room, searching for safe refuge, or out on the streets.

“Homelessness Week is a time for people to think about others facing difficulties, but it is just a regular week for volunteers of Rosies,” Rosies – Friends on the Street acting chief executive officer Jayne Shallcross said.

“We’re seeing so much social isolation and loneliness.”

For the last three decades, Rosies, a mission established by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, has been out on the street meeting people where they are.

The Rosies vans are a familiar sight providing outreach every night of the week, with about 1400 volunteers providing acceptance, friendship and hospitality to the homeless, at risk of homelessness or the simply lonely.

“Rosies volunteers know first-hand that homelessness can impact anyone,” Ms Shallcross (pictured below) said.

“It could be the mum with a young daughter that is from your local school, it could be the single dad who has just lost his job, it could be the person you know who has been suffering from mental health issues.

“The causes may be reflective of unemployment, financial difficulties, mental health challenges, relationship breakdown, substance abuse, domestic violence, or other issues – at any point in time, this could be us or someone that we know.”

A new study from Mission Australia shows one in six Australians aged between 15 and 19 have experienced homelessness, and it is likely to have life-long impacts.

The study, Staying home: A Youth Survey report on young people’s experience of homelessness asked questions of more than 25,000 young people about their home lives.

According to the study, completed last year, 51.7 per cent of young people who have experienced homelessness felt psychological distress – more than twice those that had a more stable home life.

Teenagers who had been homeless were also much more likely to run into barriers to succeeding at school or work with 67.8 per cent identifying issues with their future success.

These barriers included financial problems and a lack of family support.

“This report not only shines a spotlight on the magnitude of child and youth homelessness here in Australia, but also gives us a clearer understanding of how the experience of homelessness unfairly chips away at these young people’s lives, their wellbeing and their futures,” Mission Australia chief executive officer James Toomey said.

“This cannot be accepted as just the way things are. We can and must take action to make real and lasting change and commit to ending youth homelessness in our country.

“If we stand idle, too many young people will continue to be pushed into homelessness and will be on the back foot as they transition to adulthood.

“Many will miss out on vital education and employment opportunities as they shift from one inadequate and temporary dwelling to another.

“Without the stability of a safe place to call home, these young people are facing the torment of bullying, mental health concerns and ongoing family conflict.”

In response to the findings, Mission Australia is calling for more action to end youth homelessness in consultation and in collaboration with young people who have experienced homelessness.

“Ultimately, early intervention is key to ensuring these young people don’t continue on a path of homelessness,” Mr Toomey said.

For volunteers on the frontline, the study reinforces the need to reach out to the homeless with friendship and acceptance.

“During this challenging and difficult time of COVID-19, it is ever more important to stay connected and reach out to others who may be going through a rough patch,” Ms Shallcross said.

“Sharing a cuppa and having a conversation can make all the difference to someone’s day.

“Just reach out and connect – engage with those people in your local community that need it most.”

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