Extract from a post by Andrew Hamilton
Wednesday 9 April is Youth Homelessness Matters Day. We customarily see homelessness as the end of the road. It is the life chosen by people whose life of separation from society has led them to prefer to live without a place to call home.
From this perspective youth homelessness seems particularly shocking because it affects people who are beginning their adult lives. It seems too soon for them to cut their connections with society. So in their case we come quickly to see homelessness as a problem to be solved, and to be moved on from.
But the reality is that very few people, young or old, choose to be homeless. They may accept it as their inescapable condition. But most would prefer a safe place to which they could return regularly as their home. The fact that in a wealthy society so many people are homeless may make us ask whether it is acceptable for anyone to be homeless in a wealthy society. It speaks of priorities that have gone awry.
Homelessness is an indictment of society because it marks a lack of connection, the necessary glue within any society. If a society allows people to be disconnected through homelessness it at least shows a lack of awareness of its own core business.
The importance of home is shown by the cultural resonance of words like house and home. They connote deep patterns of relatedness through time, as when we speak of the house of the Windsors or of the Packers. They also speak of firm connections to place, developed though metaphors of roots, of footprints left on soil, of memory enshrined in stone. Without a home we are disconnected, transient, immaterial, unearthed.
These may seem to be large words to describe simple, everyday realities. But they suggest how important the connections associated with a place of residence are in ordinary human living. For individuals to lose connections through homelessness is a tragedy; for them to be homeless involuntarily indicts a society of carelessness; for young people to lack accommodation is a mark of wanton callousness.
In the case of young people, homelessness is not only the symbol of disconnection but also its consequence. If young people choose to leave home, it is usually the least bad of their options.
Most homeless young people have escaped a very difficult home life. They may have lived under the shadow of violence, been rejected by their parents and partners, lived in unstable homes where alcohol and drug abuse was common. They left to escape a dangerous, unpredictable and loveless home and a dysfunctional family. Others may have been unable to return home after spending time in juvenile justice centres.
Experiences of this kind explain why it is so hard for them to find stable accommodation. Today there is little investment in public housing, and it is a challenge for anyone to find rented accommodation. It is doubly difficult for young people who may be physically ill, suffer from mental illness or addiction. They lack the experience, financial resources and required documentation to negotiate the rental system...(continues)
SOURCE: Andrew Hamilton, Homeless young people need the means to flourish”, Eureka Street, 07 April 2014
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia