By Brandon Bear

This is certainly the case for the Youth Accommodation Association (YAA), the peak body in New South Wales representing homeless young people, and those who are at risk of becoming homeless.

The key message YAA is trying to spread is that homelessness extends beyond the common idea of people sleeping on the streets, in parks, under bridges or in other public places. These young people make up only 15 percent of the youth homelessness population.

Many homeless people, especially homeless young people, face significant challenges without ever being without a roof over their head. Young people who are staying at friends’ houses with no fixed address, young people who are staying in youth accommodation services and hostels across Sydney and New South Wales and young people who find refuge living with strangers are all part of the growing number of homeless young people YAA works for.

Around 85 percent of youth homelessness is made up of people with a roof over their head for now, but no home, no stability and no safe fixed address.

Tackling homelessness has been highlighted as a high priority on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s agenda and the issue has received significant attention. It is important to understand the context in which homeless young people exist, both visibly, and invisibly.

Recent data has estimated there are around 105,000 people in Australia who are homeless on any given night, and that nearly half of those people are under 25. Those young people who are homeless have been reported to have less self-confidence, poorer levels of health and bad experiences when visiting health professionals.

All of these factors put young homeless people in a dire situation. Organisations such as YAA, Twenty10 and youth accommodation services across New South Wales play a vital part in supporting these young people in a difficult time and helping them to transition into
independent living, or reconnect them with a family unit.

Young same-sex attracted people face a disproportionately high level of homelessness when compared to the mainstream youth community. Often the difficult process of coming out can have negative effects for young people who come from families who would rather see children without a stable support network than come to terms with their children’s sexuality. These young people often end up staying at the houses of friends, partners or anyone who will allow them to crash for a few nights.

While these young people might not be fighting for a cardboard box to sleep in for the night, this situation can present many dangers. Stress on relationships between friends or partners, a lack of a fixed address, a drop in performance or attendance at school or TAFE are all common behaviours for young people who find themselves couchsurfing out of necessity.

More dangerous is the practice of staying with predatory people, who may be providing a bed, but at the cost of financial or sexual abuse. While the young person might not be visibly homeless, they are certainly in a very unsafe situation

info: Young people who are worried about finding somewhere to sleep for the night should contact the Youth Accommodation Association’s Homeless Youth Support Worker on (02) 9698 5833.

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