Youth homelessness 'a tragedy'

The PM says there are thousands of homeless people in Australia, and the government needs to do more to help (Getty Images)

Australians must let go of the negative stereotype of homeless youths as aggressive beggars or dole bludgers and reverse the "daily tragedy", youth workers say.

Australians must let go of the negative stereotype of homeless youths as aggressive beggars or dole bludgers and reverse the "daily tragedy", youth workers say.

A new report has found the number of homeless youths, aged between 12 and 18, across the country had doubled to 22,000 in the past two decades.

The National Youth Commission's (NYC's) Australia's Homeless Youth Report also says it would cost up to $1 billion of extra funding to fix the problem.

Services 'can't cope'

It says at least 36,000 young people under 25 were homeless on any given night and 50 per cent of young people seeking a bed in supported accommodation were turned away because services were full.

The Salvation Army's Major David Eldridge, chairman of the NYC, described youth homelessness as a "daily tragedy", but one that inspired fear in some Australians.

"For some Australians, young homeless people are viewed with suspicion or even feared," he says at the launch of the report.

"We've had people talk to us about the aggressive beggar in the street or the young dole bludger or street kids stealing or prostituting themselves.

"These images do not accurately reflect the complexity or the tragedy of the real life experiences of homeless young people."

Last report 20 yrs ago

The report lays out a 10-point road plan to halve the rate of youth homelessness over the next decade and refocus the nation's attention on a major social issue, he says.

It comes almost 20 years after the last national inquiry into youth homelessness conducted by then-Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin in 1989.

The Salvation Army's Captain Paul Moulds, who features in an accompanying program about the Oasis centre aired this week on the ABC, says numbers had increased since that first inquiry because Australians stopped funding programs.

"We took our eye off the ball and those funding programs came to an end," he says.

"We didn't do it properly then, but let's hope this time we can."

Personal story

Beau Berry-Porter left home at 16 and spent six years living on the streets before finding a stable home at the Oasis centre.

Now 27 and studying a traineeship in community welfare, Mr Berry-Porter said that while homeless he was introduced to drugs and drug production, was abused and tried to commit suicide.

Describing himself as "one of the lucky ones", he called on Australians to give other youths a chance.

"Australia, don't give up on your young people ... please put in place the type of services that will welcome us even when we are angry and difficult," he says.

"We could add so much to the community, we are worth investing in."

Extra funding

At the launch, federal Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek says an extra $150 million in government funding that had been committed to building more accommodation was a "down payment" on a solution for the future.

"As a government we want to prevent homelessness when we can, we want to provide exit points from crisis," she says.

"We want to ensure that all of services - health, mental health, drug and alcohol services, employment and education - all of these services work for homeless young people."

The Youth Accommodation Association and Mission Australia both welcomed the findings of the report.

Source: AAP