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No child should endure homelessness – and WA’s NFPs are fighting to keep them off the streets

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Homelessness Week 2022

No child should endure homelessness – and WA’s NFPs are fighting to keep them off the streets

One homeless child or young person on the street is one too many.

It sounds like a simple statement – and yet it masks an endlessly complex issue which, during Homelessness Week 2022, those Not For Profits who are engaged in working with vulnerable young people, face every day. The reasons why a young person ends up on the street can be as the result of domestic violence, family break-up, drug and alcohol issues and a simple argument that may have spiralled out of control.

As part of Hearts & Minds special focus on Homelessness Week 2022, we invited some of WA’s NFPs to share their vision for solving this heart-breaking challenge.

Fixing a broken system

Anglicare WA’s CEO Mark Glasson puts it succinctly – our housing system is broken.

You can’t, he says, end homelessness if there’s not enough housing available, and people, who through no fault of their own, are forced to live in cars, in overcrowded accommodation or in tents with their children in the middle of winter.

“It’s not the fault of this government or even the previous one, the current housing crisis in Western Australia is the result of housing policy failure by successive governments – both State and Federal – for decades,” he said.

“The McGowan Government has demonstrated its acutely aware of the issue and has begun activating the levers available to it to address the housing shortage, including investment in construction, spot purchasing and refurbishment of existing social housing. The Federal Government now needs to do its part by investing in social housing in line with its election promise.”

However, Mr Glasson acknowledged this isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight.

“In all likelihood it will take decades to turn around. At the rate we’re going the estimate is we will be 700,000 houses short of requirement nationally by mid next decade.

“So if those on the lowest incomes are to keep a roof over their head in this current economic climate, the Federal Government must also urgently review the rate of all government payments including JobSeeker, and commit to lifting the rate permanently above the poverty line.”

One of the reasons Anglicare WA has engaged with high schools to participate in high profile activities like the annual School Sleep Out even, is because it’s the largest provider of youth homelessness services in Western Australia.

Every day in WA, Anglicare WA supports more than 250 young people through accommodation and outreach support.

“More than 50 per cent of young people tell us the primary reason for needing our service is due to family and domestic violence,” said Mr Glasson.

“Basically, they’ve been kicked of home, or had to leave for their own safety.”

When we talk about youth homelessness, most people imagine young people sleeping rough in the CBD, yet the reality couldn’t be further from that, with most young homelessness hidden from view – staying in short-term options such as couch-surfing with other family or friends, living in overcrowded accommodation or group homes.

“They’re young people – they just want what other young people want – to be safe, warm, fed and not at continual risk of violence or abuse; yet their experience is the complete opposite,” said Mr Glasson.

“We receive no government funding to deliver our Street Connect program, which works with the most vulnerable young people in Perth who have disengaged from all other services. It is only through fundraising events such as the School Sleep Out and corporate partnerships and donations that we are able to keep our youth workers on the street in our brightly painted Street Connect bus.

“You may have seen the bus around the CBD. Street Connect is often the first crucial step in a young person’s journey off the street. Our youth workers assist them in a number of ways, from being a friendly face on the streets, to providing crisis intervention, freshly made food, or intensive case management. The aim of Street Connect is to reduce the amount of time young people experiencing homelessness spend on Perth streets through trustworthy compassionate support and vital social connections.

Mr Glasson said at the other end of the spectrum, Anglicare WA also runs Foyer Oxford, the largest single site youth homelessness service in Australia, and the largest service of its kind in the world.

“Foyer Oxford – located in the heart of Leederville - supports 98 young people, including up to 24 young parents with their children.”

This cutting-edge service in Leederville uses sustainable employment, education and training to accelerate young people out of homelessness and disadvantage and into independent living. It ensures young people are heard, valued and supported on the path to success.

Since 2014, Foyer Oxford has successfully supported over 90 percent of its residents to successfully transition into independent living, free from reliance on support services.”

To continue operating and delivering successful pathways to young people out of homelessness, Foyer Oxford requires ongoing corporate and philanthropic support, with the State Government currently funding only 50 percent of its operations.

Anglicare WA also delivers essential homelessness services in regional and remote Western Australia, including the only women and children’s shelter in the Great Southern, and Keny Miya, the Bunbury Housing First Support Service, in partnership with Breakaway Aboriginal Corporation and Doors Wide Open.

St Pat’s also works closely with young people experiencing homelessness.

“We have specialist teams to support young people aged 15-25, through our Youth Place service which we deliver in partnership with Youth Futures, along with mental health supports for people transitioning out of hospital and drug and alcohol-recovery specific programs, all run by our highly-experienced and dedicated staff,” said St Pat’s CEO, Michael Piu.

“Our Library Connect program, run in partnership with the City of Fremantle, allows us to reach a broad cross-section of the community through the warm and friendly atmosphere of the Fremantle Library, which helps us deliver supports to people unused to or hesitant about accessing traditional pathways.”

Raising awareness with the next generation

Homelessness Week marks the countdown to the Anglicare WA School Sleep Out – the largest event of its kind in Australia - which will return to Optus Stadium again in 2022 on Friday 12 August.

Last year, 450 high school students from 19 different high schools to part in the unique, first-hand glimpse into the daily experience of the nearly 3,000 young people in Western Australia experiencing homelessness. The 2022 Sleep Out is set to be the biggest yet.

Unlike similar corporate events, students participating in the Anglicare WA School SleepOut don’t just forgo their usual homely comforts for the night, the young people also participate in Anglicare WA’s unique Homelessness Simulation.

Anglicare WA Philanthropy Director Tori Anderson said the students are pushed out of their comfort zones, grouped with young people they don’t know from other schools, and given the real-life journey of a young person with lived experience of homelessness to follow.

“The students are put through a simulated challenge of trying to access food, shelter and financial support,” said Ms Anderson.

While it sounds straight-forward – it’s far from simple as they encounter the same hurdles, set-backs and frustrations faced by vulnerable West Australians trying to access similar support. The difference for these young people is it only lasts for one night; for young people experiencing homelessness, they don’t get a reprieve the next morning.

“From past Sleep Outs, we know students gain a better understanding and empathy for what rough sleepers experience every night in Perth,” said Ms Anderson.

The event also helps to raise much-needed funds the Anglicare WA Street Connect outreach service, which is a philanthropically-funded program supporting the most vulnerable young people in Perth, aged 15 to 25, experiencing - or at-risk – of homelessness.

“In 2022, we need to raise over $150,000 again, and while participating students actively fundraise for the event, anyone can donate now through the Anglicare WA School Sleep Out website.”

 

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