Youth homelessness rising as housing crisis bites

Australia's housing shortage and other crises are leaving more children and young people teetering on the edge of homelessness, as campaigners call for an end to the vicious cycle.

There were 122,494 people experiencing homelessness on census night in 2021, with 23 per cent aged 12 to 24 and 14.4 per cent under the age of 12.

Based on the figures, more than 43,000 Australian children and young people could be without a home each night.

Youth homelessness awareness
Some 268 cut-outs represent the most recent figure of people under 25 sleeping rough in Melbourne.

Harry Sanders was forced to couch-surf and sleep at homeless camps and under a Melbourne bridge after he was kicked out of home at age 17.

The teenager was homeless for almost a year but narrowly graduated from high school and moved into a share house.

"I finished school and didn't have the money to do university," the 26-year-old told AAP. 

"My social worker encouraged me to go to an event and I met a business mentor, who encouraged me to work on a business that I started before I got kicked out of home."

He went on to establish StudioHawk, Australia's largest search engine optimisation agency, employing about 80 staff and collecting about $13 million in revenue a year.

Mr Sanders used to feel embarrassed by his past but is speaking to destigmatise the subject and push for more resources to snap the "ruthless cycle".

"We've got all these young Victorians and Australians on the street and some of them won't seek help," he said.

"Youth homelessness is a lot easier to solve because there are a lot less mental complications.

"But if you don't solve it when they're young, it becomes a long-term problem and costs us an absolute fortune."

Eamonn McCarthy, chief executive of youth homelessness charity Lighthouse Foundation, said the number of homeless youth was growing.

"Mental health issues among children and young people are on the rise," Dr McCarthy said.

"Family violence has increased and the higher cost of living, paired with the housing crisis, is pushing more children, young people and families to the brink of homelessness."

Lighthouse Foundation CEO Eamonn McCarthy
Lighthouse Foundation CEO Eamonn McCarthy says young people are facing more challenges.

The types of children needing help from the Victorian-based homelessness foundation are increasingly younger.

"Some of the challenges we may historically have seen for kids who are 15, 16, 17 are now being seen in children as young as seven, eight, and nine," Dr McCarthy said.

Some 268 life-size cut-outs were placed on the steps of Victoria State Library on Wednesday to represent the most recent figure of people under 25 sleeping rough in the City of Melbourne area.

The installation was part of a wider campaign in schools and coincides with Youth Homelessness Matters Day.

Nearby, the Council to Homeless Persons cut a "birthday" cake to mark 18 years since Victoria's last youth homelessness strategy was released.

The council's chief executive Deborah Di Natale said it should serve as a wake-up call for the Victorian government, with nearly 16,000 young people in the state seeking help from homelessness services last year.

"This isn’t just a crisis, it's an intergenerational tragedy that demands bold, immediate, and sustained action," she said.

Victorian Housing Minister Harriet Shing said the government was trying to address weak new dwelling supply through its Development Facilitation Program, with more than 30,000 homes either in the pre-approval process or under active consideration.

Other youth homelessness advocacy groups hosted events in Sydney, Hobart and Darwin on Wednesday.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

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