Youth Homeless Services Struggling Under Demand, Funding Shortages

"We’re like a merry-go-round. Kids keep going round and round, with no way off or way out"

Each day is a sad juggling act for the team at youth homelessness service Frontyard. How many beds can they find for young people doing it tough? How many people can they fit into medical appointments?

How many will they have to turn away?

"We might have about 60 young people on our list for crisis accommodation, and maybe three youth refuge beds a day to work with," Rob Hosking, Frontyard's operations manager, told ten daily.

"Melbourne City Mission runs a few refuges and there are a few others around the city, but the demand for resources far outweighs supply."

"Finding outcomes or options for people is becoming noticeably harder."

The 2016 census reported 43,000 young Australians were homeless, nearly 40 percent of the total national figure, which the Australian Bureau of Statistics said even "underestimated" the true number. Nearly 10,000 of those were in Victoria, where Frontyard is based.

Frontyard is a Melbourne-based service run by the Melbourne City Mission, providing assistance for those aged 16-25. It links those experiencing homeless with a range of services including legal, medical, employment, education, welfare and, of course, housing. Frontyard also provides music therapy, animal assistance and general life skills like how to write a CV or apply for a rental home.

"The need for housing is the carrot that brings people through the front door, but rarely is housing actually the main cause of someone’s homelessness. They need help with a plan overcoming the factors that led to their homelessness," Hosking said.

"A lot of young people coming to us have adverse childhood experiences, one of the main reasons being family violence. A lot would have experienced quite significant trauma, and mental health issues that do lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms," added Frontyard's clinical therapeutic services manager Simone Bursey.

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One of those young people is Mo. They moved out of home in Perth after family abuse, with resulting mental health and substance issues leading to them leaving study and work. Mo later moved to Melbourne to escape Perth's "toxic" environment, and as a young queer trans person of colour, had difficulty finding appropriate services.

"Things weren't going so well in Perth. It's a small place so I knew everyone, I’d lived there most of my life, so everything was a reminder," Mo told ten daily.

"I spiralled out of control. I was self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, sex. I found myself doing things I’d never do, because my mental headspace was shit. Perth was really toxic for me, so I left, but I didn't leave my problems behind."

"I was like a glass, ready to shatter with all these cracks."

Mo planned to move to Melbourne several times over a few months, but always backed out at the last minute. After finally taking the plane ride, Mo arrived in the city knowing barely anyone, without a job or home. Within a week, they were at Frontyard.

"There was a shortage of beds and funding. They would tell me I could go into refuges, but I’m queer and trans and black, so those places aren't safe for me," Mo said.

Bursey said it was difficult for staff to admit to clients that they don't have the space to help them. The service is redeveloping its building to offer more support to young people, including two floors of crisis accommodation, to help meet the needs of their clients.

"There's just not enough in the health system to meet demand. It is very difficult. We just try to be really open and honest, and give them all their options," she said.

"There are lots of highs and lows but the resilience we see is really incredible. We're trying to link people with a very under-resourced system."

Frontyard staff said homelessness needed more funding, and -- perhaps even more than that -- more understanding and empathy in the community.

"There are a lot of people who understand, but we could be doing better. We need to get people out of homelessness before their situation gets more entrenched and serious," Bursey said.

Hosking agreed.

"There needs to be a shift in thinking in Australia. We tend to blame the person in crisis but it’s a lot more complicated than 'just get a job'. We need targeted responses for people at risk. That might be a supplement allowing them to access mainstream rental, because we know public housing waitlists are ridiculous," he said.

"We’re like a merry-go-round. Kids keep going round and round, with no way off or way out"

Mo said despite a rough start in Melbourne, they had adapted well to the new city and were now thriving, including working with Frontyard's advocacy committee.

"I'm seeing a psychologist, someone to help me with a job and resumes, a music therapist, and a really cool case worker. They helped me a lot with my fines and legal stuff, which took a lot of pressure off so I had more energy to use to look for my own place," Mo said.

"When I got my own rental and stuff, I was able to do simple things like telling people my problems. It’s hard when you don't have space or time to yourself. It’s been good. I’ve been really stable and happy. I'm back to work and recovering, making a lot of progress."

Contact the author: jobutler@networkten.com.au