The pandemic’s impact on the economy and rates of mental health, family conflict and discrimination saw almost one in 20 Australians in their mid to late teenage years pushed into homelessness for the first time, a damning new report has revealed.
The survey, comprising tens of thousands of respondents, was conducted between April and August of 2021, a rollercoaster time of government-enforced lockdowns and restrictions. First-time youth homelessness was shown to have increased overall from one in 25 young people in 2017, while the rate among those with disabilities jumped from 5.5% to over 13%.
The report highlighted five key risk factors for those who found themselves homeless.
Half of all first-time homeless youth revealed family conflict had been an issue of personal concern, while a similar percentage said they had endured unfair treatment and discrimination surrounding their mental health, gender or sexuality.
"Family issues caused a lot of stress and led me to make dumb decisions with drugs and alcohol,” one respondent wrote.
Domestic violence was likewise a highlighted concern, as was psychological distress, with more than half revealing their distress levels were high — close to double the rate of those who were not first-time homeless. In addition, just under half said COVID-19 had negatively impacted their friendships, and two in five said their employment had been affected.
🏘️ This week is Homelessness Week and across the country, people will sleep in garages, cars, or on a mattress on the floor with their friends or family. Skyrocketing rent, weather events and cost of living are some of the reasons.— Mission Australia (@MissionAust) August 1, 2022
Mission Australia's CEO Sharon Callister, the organisation behind the report, said "sadly, these findings are not a surprise."
She emphasised that the statistics included in the report — released in conjunction with Australia’s National Homelessness Week — must spur decision makers to invest more in social and affordable homes, rental subsidies and additional support models across the country.
"Shining a light on these young people's experiences and the risk factors, including family conflict, poor mental health and discrimination, must lead to strong intervention and preventative action," she wrote in a statement. "We cannot do nothing while young people are forced into homelessness at such a crucial time of their lives. Too many are missing out on important education and employment opportunities without the stability of a safe place to call home."
Over the past few months, the newly-elected Labor Government has pledged to develop a National Housing and Homelessness Plan, promising to "set out the key short, medium and longer-term reforms needed to … put a roof over the heads of more homeless Australians."
A $10 billion dollar commitment to building 30,000 new affordable homes over five years has also been guaranteed.