Today, Wednesday 15 April, is Youth Homelessness Matters Day, which aims to raise awareness of the challenges that homeless young people experience.
Family conflict is the leading cause of youth homelessness – but when home is not a safe space, where do young people go?
The situation is especially challenging given the current COVID-19 crisis as many support services and community connections youth rely on have been removed under social distancing restrictions.
According to the Youth Coalition of the ACT, youth homelessness services are already seeing an increased demand and complexity in managing service provision, due to social distancing and isolation requirements for some clients.
They are also seeing an increase in requests for support with family conflict and domestic violence in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. The Youth Coalition of the ACT expects as the situation continues, organisations should expect a flow-on effect of an increase in demand for youth housing and homelessness services.
Manager of Barnardos Youth Homelessness Services, Siobhan Cosgrave, said their organisation hasn’t for now experienced an increase in demand due to COVID-19.
Ms Cosgrave said they currently accommodate around 88 young people in their programs, which is a “pretty steady” number of clients.
Barnardos has 45 properties dispersed throughout Canberra providing accommodation for those in need. They also have a couch surfing program which offers financial support for people accommodating young people in their home.
However, Ms Cosgrave noted there have been some issues with informal couch surfing “falling apart” as some people only want immediate family in their homes to reduce exposure to COVID-19. She also expressed concern about the potential for more family tension and family breakdown as families spend greater time together in isolation.
To assist their clients, Ms Cosgrave said Barnardos is providing ‘tele-health’ style consultations to see how their clients are doing – “lucky we are working with the digital generation as they are happy to FaceTime” – and if they need any additional resources such as internet data and devices.
“They’ve been really good, the ACT Government, and given us a rent reprieve for six months,” she said. “We are using that money to get extra resources for young people. We are surveying people in our properties to find out what they need to make things bearable.”
Overall, Ms Cosgrave said the situation is currently manageable; however, the big focus will be rough sleepers, who are generally an older cohort, and getting them into suitable accommodation before it gets too cold.
The Youth Coalition of the ACT would like to see further investment in addressing the needs of young people who are already experiencing homelessness, and resourcing the services who are supporting them. This needs to be partnered with ongoing investment to address the causes of youth homelessness, particularly family conflict.
Barnardos staff have been busy creating survival packs for clients with essentials such as hand sanitiser and toilet paper, while they are also after donations of adult colouring books. If you would like to help with donations please email [email protected]