Mental illness and family violence key triggers for youth homelessness

Family conflict, depression and stress were far more common in young people who had spent time away from home.

By JAMAL BEN HADDOU

Poor mental health and family conflict are two of the main catalysts for young people sleeping rough, according to a Mission Australia report released yesterday.

Young people with a mental illness or whose family functioning was poor were more than three times more likely to have experienced homelessness, the report Youth Mental Health and Homelessness said.  

It also found of the 17,146 young Australians aged 15 to 19 who were surveyed, a shocking 57.7 per cent of those with a serious mental illness who experienced high levels of family instability had spent time away from home.

Couch-surfing – staying in different people’s homes – is the most common way young people experience homelessness, the report revealed.

 Next week, August 7-13, is Homelessness Week. 

Source: Mission Australia.

Mark McLaren, 18, is one of the thousands of young Australians who have experienced homelessness.

He spent much of his teenage years without a permanent place of residence and in 2014 he was kicked out of home after a major family conflict.

“I was off the rails and my relationship with mum just wasn’t working,” Mr McLaren said.

Despite receiving help from the Department of Human Services, he was forced to relocate regularly. He became disengaged from support services and experienced anxiety and depression.

“I felt terrible, I had no one, no support and no one to talk to,” he said.

Mr McLaren spent years couch-surfing with friends, sometimes moving three times a week.

Source: Mission Australia.

Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said young people who were forced to couch-surf were much more likely to become homeless later in life.

“For many young people who feel they can’t go back home because of family conflict, violence or for other reasons, what starts as sporadic couch-surfing can unfortunately turn into more entrenched homelessness,” Ms Yeomans said.

“We know (many) adolescents stay for short periods of time on couches, floors or in other insecure housing situations … with relatives or friends,” she said.

Mr McLaren has since joined a social enterprise program at Synergy Auto Repairs where he has learned vocational skills and will seek a job as a spray painter when he completes the program in September.

Mission Australia has urged the Commonwealth and states to fund and expand early intervention programs to help people like Mr McLaren avoid being homeless.

“There are a range of evidence-based specialist services that can support young people experiencing homelessness to find their way, connect them to expert help including for mental illness, reconcile with family if that’s safe and possible, or if not, find supportive accommodation,” Ms Yeomans said.

“But workers in these services are over-stretched and under-resourced and with greater investment, more young people could be supported.”

In the lead up to the Homelessness Week, Mission Australia has recommended commonwealth and state governments to develop a policy that addresses mental health and education to help halve youth homelessness by 2020.