Helping young people experiencing homelessness keep faith in ‘the system’ – VCOSS

Extract from a blog post by Molly O’Shaughnessy

Young people experiencing homelessness often miss out on support because there’s no plan or specialist support associated with their mental health and substance use warns Melbourne City Mission’s Molly O’Shaughnessy 

The specialist homelessness system acts as a safety net when other service systems – child protection, education, health, disability, and mental health, housing, and justice services – fail to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. Right now it’s clear every time you open the paper or walk down a city street that this safety net is close to breaking point, strained under the weight of unprecedented levels of street-based homelessness.

While much of the media’s recent coverage has focused on older rough sleepers, over the past three years Melbourne City Mission, through its CBD-based youth homelessness access point Frontyard, has seen unprecedented growth in another sector of the rough sleeping population: people under the age of 25.

For the majority of this group, the specialist homelessness system can provide a pathway out of immediate homelessness. Most young people attending Frontyard will not need to return, and for those that do, most will only return on another one or two occasions. However, there is a small but significant number of young people who are caught in a cycle of recurrent homelessness, and return to services again and again, sometimes over months or years. This group is notable not only because of their use of services, but also for the complexity of their need.

While each journey is unique, the common factor for these young people facing homelessness  is a history of abuse, trauma and self-harm. Most have grown up in out-of-home care and many have extremely high levels of engagement with the youth justice system.

Most have co-occurring substance abuse, cognitive impairment, and often other disabilities.

More than 80 per cent report a mental health diagnosis and, significantly, 90 per cent report problematic substance abuse. It is, however, worth noting that the level of substance abuse may be under-reported – experienced frontline staff at our youth refuges suggest that, for this particular group of young people, problematic substance use sits at closer to 100 per cent…(continues)

SOURCE: Molly O’Shaughnessy, “Helping young people experiencing homelessness keep faith in ‘the system’”, VCOSS, 27 Feb 2017

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BroCAP is produced by the two librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia.

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