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Homelessness Week is 6-12 August. This is a time to focus on this national crisis and push for solutions to end the rising numbers of people who have nowhere to call home.

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All over the country there will be a push for additional affordable housing to ensure people experiencing homelessness can have more than a roof: a secure, affordable home.

A home gives us stability, helps us remain healthy, and provides the space from where we can work, achieve our aspirations and build relationships in our communities.

 But ending chronic homelessness also involves more than just putting a roof over someone’s head. 

That’s why our services at Youth Projects offer a complete “wrap around” model of care that addresses the major risk factors to both prevent homelessness in the first place and to help people to recover.

We work on housing, jobs, skills and employment, and health and wellbeing to provide a complete range of services that create long lasting impact.

Affordable housing

Only 2 per cent of Melbourne rental homes are affordable for working single-parent families, and none are affordable for a single person on a basic wage or fixed income.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of people who experience homelessness are not actually rough sleepers (living on the streets). In fact, rough sleeping only makes up around 7% of homelessness while the remainder is ‘hidden homelessness’, that is, people sleeping in cars, rooming houses, couch surfing, or staying in other temporary types of accommodation.

We need a lot more affordable housing but in the right places. Concentrations of affordable housing in areas with weak labour markets risks trapping residents in a cycle of poverty and creating or accentuating concentrations of disadvantage.

While we push to increase  the supply of affordable  housing we must ensure that this housing is located in regions with stronger labour markets.

There is also a big need for more intensive support for highly vulnerable people who manage to secure social housing. Securing housing for people with very complex needs is only half the challenge. Keeping them housed with long-term support tailored to their needs is equally critical.

Access to jobs and opportunity for people at risk of homelessness

A person thinking about moving to take up a job might find it difficult to access social housing close to that job. A move into the private rental market might mean higher rent and less security of tenure. The difficulty of transferring creates a disincentive to move for employment, especially if the job is temporary or the likely number of hours of work (and, therefore, income) is unclear.

If many of those ‘at risk’ of homelessness gravitate towards regions with stronger labour markets but more expensive housing, they could become more vulnerable unless steps are taken to retain and add to supplies of affordable housing.

That’s why its almost impossible for someone who is unemployed, living in poverty and in insecure housing to pick up and move to find job opportunities.

Youth unemployment is highest in Melbourne outer suburbs where the job market is weaker, and with 60% of future job growth predicted to be in inner and middle suburbs, we need much more economic support in our new growth corridors.

But youth specific, empathetic support delivers results by empowering people to find their interests and build the self confidence and skills to learn again and feel equipped to compete in the job market. Our Transition to Work program is preventing youth poverty and homelessness with early intervention to ensure risk factors are reduced and success factors are reinforced. Already over 500 at risk youth have been assisted back to learning and into a secure job in this program.

Family violence, poverty & wellbeing

Nearly a third of young people in jobless families considered that family violence is an issue of major concern for them.

Young people from jobless families are also around twice as likely as the other groups to rate their family’s relationship as poor.

Each weekend more than 150 women and children seek refuge from abusive partners in crisis accommodation across the state. Even more are hiding out in motel rooms paid for in advance by domestic violence services.

Greater proportions of young people in jobless families are not studying at all.

Young people in jobless families are twice as likely as the other groups to report feeling either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their studies. And nearly one in ten young people in jobless families indicate that they are not planning to complete Year 12. More than 10,000 students in years 9 to 11 disengage from the education and training systems every year. A further 6000 drop out within 12 months of transferring to the vocational education and training (VET) system.

Health services for those in need. Outreach is powerful.

About 18% of people seeking specialist housing support are young people presenting alone, 32% were people who had experienced domestic and/or family violence, and  20% had a current mental health issue. Evidence suggests three in four adult mental health conditions emerge by age 24 and half by age 14

Compared to the broader population, people experiencing homelessness experience poor physical and mental health, higher levels of drug and alcohol addiction, live with unacceptable levels of pain due to chronic or untreated conditions. They are also less likely to be included in health prevention strategies and less likely to access the health services they need without support.

Many people who are homeless are unaware of what is available.

Health care delivery to homeless people can be challenging due to lack of insurance; distrust of service-providers, bad experiences with health care in the past, difficulty making and keeping appointments, difficulty with complex medical and follow up care routines, and, lack of understanding or interest in health problems in relation to seemingly more important issues at hand.

Our health services at The Living Room offers free medical care, mental health and drug counselling, in addition to everyday needs like showers, laundry, clothing, internet and food. Our extensive outreach model means we can engage people who need help and link them to resources. Many people who are homeless are unaware of what is available.

Outreach workers can help prepare clients as they begin to access services, and advocate for a client’s unique needs, strengths, and interests to help empower people to  engage into  the care they need and want to have.

Our outreach street nurses, youth northern outreach team (YNOT), YHOP mobile youth outreach van, Foot Patrol, and NWOS play a vital role in connecting hidden and excluded members of our community into support.

The way forward

None of this is ok.  It’s a sign that our whole housing and support systems need drastic change. We need more housing and but people at risk of homelessness need far greater access to jobs, skills, and  community based counselling and health care if we are to create the impact of lasting change.

In 2018, Homelessness Week has the theme “Ending homelessness together’’.

Everyone in the community is encouraged to get active as citizens to call for an end to homelessness.

Check out the Everybody’s Home campaign and petition. http://everybodyshome.com.au/sign-petition-to-end-homelessness/