From the front line of the issue, Auswide Projects Reconnect coordinator Tiffany Beggs says teams of people are working across the shire with young people who have housing issues.
Finding accommodation for them is a huge, often complicated and drawn out problem as they often lack adequate identification, income or rental history and then comes the task of working with other issues like rebuilding relationships, restoring health and mental health, developing living skills, finding education and employment.
Ms Beggs says the main reason young people become homeless is because of the breakdown of family support.
This can mean family violence, conflict, neglect, unemployment, alcohol and other drug issues, and mental health issues.
For older people it is domestic or family violence or the breakdown of relationships.
She says everyone has a unique story.
“You can’t stereotype the clients, they are all different and their circumstances are all so different,” Ms Beggs said.
After eight years on the job she has learnt to celebrate the small successes.
“In this job we really have to celebrate the small things,” she said.
“Those small things can lead to other things in life, once their accommodation is stabilised it can pave the way to improved participation in education, employment and the community.”
Ms Beggs has also learnt that people can and do still choose to ‘couch surf’, straying casually from one place to another, rather than seek refuge outside of the Bega Valley, which potentially exposes them to unsafe environments.
The closest youth refuge is at Moruya which she says isolates the young person from what existing support networks they have, including friends, school, and at times casual employment.
Foster carers are also in short supply which means there are limited options for those who are homeless or need respite and under the age of 16.
Fortunately the issue seems to be gaining the government’s attention and more importantly, funding.
Anglicare is planning a foster care recruitment program and has just received $888,000 in funding from the federal government.
Locally, Auswide Project’s YASS program provides medium term supported accommodation.
“To be eligible they have to be aged 16 to 22 years and either learning or working full time, which is often a problem when there are other crippling issues, such as undiagnosed mental illness or alcohol and other drug issues to resolve first,” Ms Beggs said.
“We’ve had kids that we’ve just given tents to because we’ve exhausted all our options,” Ms Beggs shakes her head.
“Some kids sleep down at the (Bega) River, some in someone’s backyard or a caravan park.”
Sadly, when faced with that option people can make a devastating decision.
“(One young girl), took her own life after living with relationship violence which bought her to the point where she found herself malnutritioned and squatting in an abandoned building.”
The Reconnect program works with schools and other service providers to address issues that contribute to the risk of homelessness, an example of that would be the LOVE BiTES program which educates young people about relationship and sexual violence.
Service providers are working together through regional forums, such as the Regional Homelessness Action Plan for the south east, to improve the coordination and delivery of homelessness services.
“We’re trying to build on the community’s ability to respond to homelessness,” Ms Beggs said.
Following coverage in last week’s Merimbula News Weekly a community member has stepped forward with an offer for temporary accommodation.
Ms Beggs welcomed the offer.
“A community member has contacted the Reconnect Program offering the use of a granny flat for emergency accommodation,” she said.
“This is a great outcome and example of the community offering a helping hand by providing affordable accommodation options for young people.”
Contact the Reconnect Program at Auswide Projects, Bega on 6492 8221 to discuss an opportunities you may have to offer emergency accomodation.