Youth homeless numbers soar

Sam Dowling left home because of family conflict. Picture: Jacqueline Ho

By JACQUELINE HO 

More than 38,000 young people under the age of 25 sought help from homelessness services in Victoria last financial year, statistics show. 

Council to Homeless Persons consumer affairs manager Ian Gough said it was a “national disgrace”.

“Australia is among the wealthiest countries in the world, it’s a national disgrace that we have allowed [so many] young people to be homeless,” he said.

He said most young people lost their homes because of family violence and conflict.

“This is also why so many young women become homeless – they are the most exposed to domestic violence. ”  

A survey conducted by NSW homeless shelter Yfoundations  supported his comments, finding that more than 80 per cent of young people who sought help from homelessness service providers had previously experienced domestic and family violence. 

Yfoundations chief executive Michael Coffey said the connection was often missed.

“Too often, conversations about youth homelessness do not emphasise domestic violence, and debates about domestic violence tend not to address youth,” he said. 

Victoria’s homelessness situation has only worsened over the years, with the Melbourne StreetCount 2016 revealing a 74 per cent increase in the number of homeless people over a period of two years. 

Sam Dowling, 23, had been sleeping rough in Melbourne’s CBD for several weeks, after running away from an “aggressive and suffocating” home. 

“They would starve me because I broke curfew. It was more of a hellhole than a home.”

Mr Dowling said he had endured years of “physical and psychological abuse” from his parents and relatives before deciding to leave his home under the pretense of looking for a job.

“I remember thinking ‘this is now or never’, and taking nothing but my backpack and two sets of clothes with me,” he said. 

“I haven’t thought about going home yet, but I may have to eventually because public housing and shelters are hard to get into.”