Australia's Shocking Youth Homelessness Figures: Up 43 Percent In a Decade In Victoria, 28,000 Homeless Nationwide

Nearly a quarter of Australia's homeless people are under the age of 25.

What you need to know
  • Almost 28,000 young people are homeless on any given night in Australia
  • Youth homelessness increased 43 percent between 2006 and 2016
  • Census data showed most homeless youth were 'couch surfing' or staying on couches with other family or friends
  • Government accused if failure after almost 5 years of rising levels of youth homelessness

Almost 28,000 young people are homeless on any given night in Australia, but you probably won't find many sleeping on park benches, in public spaces or on the streets.

Experts and advocates say young homeless people are more likely to be found in severely crowded share accommodation, crashing on couches or in inappropriate crisis housing residences.

'Homelessness' is classified as not having a safe, secure and appropriate place to call home.

So while many of these young people do have a roof over their heads, they lack the basic privacy, security and comfort that most of us take for granted.

"The vast majority of young people experiencing homelessness are hidden from view in refuges, couch surfing situations and sleeping in cars with their family, but their experience is very real," said the Victoria-based Council to Homeless Persons.

The 2016 census reported more than 116,000 Australians as homeless, with nearly 28,000 of those being between the ages of 12 and 24. That's almost a quarter of the national homeless population. In Victoria, youth homelessness increased 43 percent between 2006 and 2016.

Australia marked Youth Homelessness Day on April 18.

The CHP said the majority of these homeless youth were in that situation due to a family breakdown or family violence.

"In most instances, they do not have a home because they are escaping conflict and violence. Previous research found that 70 percent of young people who became homeless left home to escape family violence, child abuse or family breakdown," the CHP said.

Census data also showed most homeless youth were 'couch surfing' or staying on couches with other family or friends. This situation, while seen as preferable to sleeping rough, means the young person lacks privacy, security and a place to call their own. It can also lead to exploitation of, or real danger to, that person, as revealed in new research from Queensland showing that couch surfers could be coerced into sex.

"Envisioning couch surfing as an extended sleep-over with a friend has contributed to the perception that it is a ‘safer’ form of homelessness, or even not a form of youth homelessness at all. Preliminary findings from a Queensland-based research project blows these misconceptions out of the water. The research suggests that couch surfing can be just as damaging and traumatising as rough sleeping for young people," CHP said.

The findings of the Brisbane Youth Service and Griffith Criminology Institute were that young couch surfers had increased rates of suicide risk and self-harming behaviour, and poorer mental health.

"It is possible that some young women and gay youth are exchanging survival sex for a place to stay and there may be multiple other psychological stressors in play in couch surfing environments," CHP said.

Experts link some of the homelessness issue to a lack of affordable housing for people to buy or rent, as well as insufficient crisis housing and shelters. The federal Labor spokesperson on housing and homelessness, Doug Cameron,  called on the government to pay greater attention to the issue.

"The 2016 Census provides a sobering reminder of the need for the Government to prioritise youth homelessness in Australia," Cameron said in a statement.

"Regrettably, the Abbott-Turnbull Government has failed in its nearly five years in office to give rising levels of youth homelessness, nor its underlying causes, the urgent priority it requires. "