Sharon Callister, CEO of Mission Australia, joined Neil Johnson, host of 20Twenty, to discuss the frightening dramatic increase in youth homelessness since the COVID 19 period. A report reveals almost 1 in 20 young people aged 15 to 19 who responded to Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2021 were homeless for the first time during the pandemic. This is distressing and horrifying.
The After-effects of Lockdowns
The key risk factors for becoming homeless reported by young people were:
• Family and domestic violence or parental drug and alcohol abuse
• Leaving a parental home without stable employment
• Mental illness
• Alcohol and other drug issues
• Housing crisis
• The negative impacts of COVID
The multiple lockdowns during COVID, especially lengthy ones, created long periods of isolation from friends and forced young people to stay home, where domestic violence was exasperated. Young people who suddenly lost their jobs due to the effects of lockdowns on businesses could no longer pay rent and living expenses. Students who could no longer go to school and lived in overcrowded housing were left without a safe place to work or study. Mental health issues also increased significantly.
Young people who become homeless due to violence in the home think they would be better off on the street or sleeping at a friend’s house. This limited their independence and privacy, increased stress and anxiety, and potentially exposed young people to violence and abuse. It also made it difficult to study and therefore affected their education.
Preventing homelessness is the best option. Some strategies are to introduce universal screening at schools to identify youth who are at risk. Another is to engage specialised staff to provide mental health and other support to help stabilise families. Mission Australia provides a number of these services right across Australia. They provide housing and accommodation, counselling, family support, and education.
The Government have announced that they will support a national plan for housing and homelessness so if a young person finds themselves homeless, they will be able to find a place to stay. This needs to happen urgently, especially where youth is concerned, as they require specialist housing. Mission Australia has some services that assist people requiring specialised housing.
Sharon says, ‘I’ve met some of the young people living in specialist housing, and they tell me how Mission Australia has changed their lives from one of despair and isolation to one where they’re back in school and reconnecting with society. Basically, we’re helping set them up to be successful.’
Safe and Thriving Communities Is Everyone’s Business
Families do have challenges. If people reach out to them and direct them to support services that will help them with the issues they are facing, it prevents bigger problems down the track, such as youth homelessness.
Safe and thriving communities are built when everyone makes an effort to solve the problems people are facing. When you hear about or see young people in the community who are misbehaving, do you think to yourself, ‘I hope they get arrested and dealt with,’ or do you see someone who is hurting and lost and hoping someone will care enough to help?
How Can You Help?
Early intervention is paramount to avoiding major setbacks. A young person’s education, employment opportunities and even their whole future are in jeopardy if they end up homeless.
‘Prayer is very powerful, and the more we pray, the better results we get,’ says Sharon. Local churches can get involved by promoting Mission Australia’s services and having people volunteer. They can also lobby their local members to ensure that the National Plan for Housing and Homelessness actually takes off.
Donating or creating your own fundraiser is also very helpful and makes people feel they are part of Mission Australia’s mission to make a difference in people’s lives.
‘The time to act is now,’ said Sharon. ‘When you put a human face to even one of these people, and you see the difficulties and challenges and barriers that they face, it’s scary. We can’t afford to wait any longer. We need to make this a national priority.’
Will you help and support this worthwhile cause to keep our youth off the streets? Is God prompting you to make this your mission?
For more information on the services provided by Mission Australia, you can visit their website at: www.missionaustralia.org.au
The Vision store also offers resources on a variety of related topics.
This article was inspired by Neil Johnson’s interview with Sharon Callister. To listen to the full interview, click the link below: