In total, 24 055 young people participated in the Youth Survey 2017, Mission Australia’s 16th annual survey of young Australians aged 15-19 years. Of these, 21 812 responded to the survey’s questions on experiences of homelessness, with nearly 1 in 6 young people (15.6%) reporting having experienced a type of homelessness, either time with no fixed address, living in a refuge or transitional accommodation or time spent couch surfing. Among those who reported couch surfing, these experiences were often not isolated, with only one in five (19.8%) indicating this had happened on just one occasion and with some young people having typically stayed away for periods longer than 6 months. Importantly, almost one in five of those who had couch surfed (19.5) reported that they had first done so when they were less than 12 years old.
Other key findings of the survey included:
Young people who had experienced homelessness were notably more likely than young people who had never experienced homelessness to:
Despite the stark differences identified above, there were also a number of similarities between the two cohorts including:
This report further draws comparisons between the responses of young people who have experienced youth homelessness and those who have experienced homelessness with their family. While results across both groups generally followed a similar pattern to the findings outlined above for all young people experiencing homelessness, those who had experienced youth homelessness were the most likely to express low levels of confidence in their ability to achieve their study/work goals after school, to indicate high levels of concern about family conflict, depression and suicide, to meet the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness and to express negative feelings about the future.
Young people experiencing either youth or family homelessness gave less positive ratings of their family’s ability to get along than those who had never experienced homelessness, however, those experiencing youth homelessness were the most likely to indicate only fair or poor family relationships, to express high levels of concern about family conflict and to cite family responsibilities and lack of family support as barriers to them achieving their study/work goals. They were also the least likely to say they had lived with their parent/s over the past three months and to turn to parent/s for help with important issues in their lives.
The Youth Survey 2017 findings have important implications for how we understand and act to address the issues of youth and family homelessness. They point to the existence of a critical group of young people who are either couch surfing and/or have experienced other types of homelessness during their lifetime. This group is far more likely to perceive barriers to the achievement of their study/work goals, to indicate poor family relationships and family conflict, to be concerned about depression, to be showing indicators of probable serious mental illness and feeling negatively towards the future. Critically, some of these young people are lacking the important support families can offer as they navigate adolescence, a period of significant change and challenge and move towards independence.
The findings highlight the importance of an early identification mechanism for young people at risk of homelessness and timely interventions providing the support necessary to prevent these young people continuing down a pathway to entrenched homelessness. Given this research reveals that young people who have an experience of homelessness have poorer outcomes on a number of measures, such as family functioning and mental health (including self-esteem and sense of control) compared to their non-homeless counterparts, a universal assessment tool, which is sensitive to differences in such items could allow for an individual and immediate response and subsequently reduce youth homelessness.
To read more about youth homelessness and Mission Australia’s recommendations click here.