Homeless youth hits crisis levels

Youth program regional manager Brett Paradise and youth case manager Shazz Gillett want to raise awareness of youth homelessness.
Youth program regional manager Brett Paradise and youth case manager Shazz Gillett want to raise awareness of youth homelessness. Jay Cronan

THE North Coast has the worst homeless rate in the State outside of Sydney and a major proportion of that is youth.

Young people are taking refuge under bridges, in caravan parks and on people’s sofas.

Yesterday was Youth Homelessness Matters Day – part of Youth Week – which aims to promote awareness of young people who are not just sleeping on the streets, but camping at other people’s houses.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 500 young people are homeless each night in the North Coast region, a figure that one local 17-year-old girl, who cannot be named, was once a part of.

“I lived with three brothers and my mum and we had a violent home invasion with guns when I was younger,” she said.

“Ever since that my mum got into abusive relationships with men who would abuse her and me. She started selling drugs and when she would come down we would have physical fights almost every day.

“I couldn’t live at home so I was staying at different people’s houses all the time and I became homeless.

“It was hard for me to put my pride aside and ask for help.”

The young girl fell in and out of homelessness before seeking professional assistance.

Cases like this are often under reported, according to youth programs regional manager Brett Paradise, from the Lismore-based Social Development Council.

“It’s hard to get a good picture of youth homelessness because it is not just sleeping on the street, but is often staying with friends too,” he said.

“Being in an unstable environment has proved to be just as dangerous as being on the street. But the choice of being on the street is sometimes better than being at home.”

Homelessness later in life can often be traced to a person’s youth as 80 per cent of chronically homeless people had an incident of homelessness when they were under 18.

Reasons for young people leaving home range from family breakdown to substance abuse and violence.

Youth Connections client services manager Meaghan Vosz said there was a constant flow of homeless youth in the region.

“We have people arriving for intake every day that are homeless,” she said.

“We turn people away because there’s not enough appropriate housing for young people that is affordable and we don’t have any emergency accommodation like a youth refuge.

“People are walking the streets all night because that is safer then staying in one spot.”

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