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Youth homelessness won’t be solved by the market

November 19, 2011
By Tim Dobson

“Australia’s Homeless Youth”, a report by the National Youth Commission, reveals the reality behind reports of Australia’s economic prosperity.

The report, released in early April, revealed that 36,000 people under 25, including 22,000 teenagers, are homeless on any given night. This figure is more than double that of 1989 when the last youth homelessness report was released. One in two of all youths seeking emergency shelter will be turned away — the result of under funding.

Almost 50% of homeless youth reported they were seeking accommodation due to a relationship breakdown with parents or step-parents, while 32% stated financial difficulties as the cause of their homelessness. The report also stated that physical and sexual abuse was a significant factor, with David Eldridge of the Salvation Army stating, “It is not just happening in Indigenous communities”.

One of the report’s authors, David Mackenzie, stated that “unless a major national effort was undertaken, youth homelessness will continue to rise, due to soaring rent prices and the lack of affordable housing and low youth wages”.

The report stated that youth homelessness needed to be given greater political priority by the federal government. It also set out a ten-point plan to help eliminate youth homelessness by 2030. This included: billions of dollars allocated to public housing; an extra $1 billion for homeless shelters over the next 10 years and a national review of welfare services in schools.

With an increase in funding and a commitment to reduce youth homelessness, the problem could be solved, the report noted. The April 8 Sydney Morning Herald reported, “In the past five years, effective early intervention programs have reduced youth homelessness from 26,000 in 2001, but the programs reach only a third of the young people who need them”.

The federal housing minister Tanya Plibersek has described the situation as a “national tragedy”, and said the problem is due to “failures of both sides of politics”.

PM Kevin Rudd has stated that the number of homeless in Australia is “unacceptable”, but his government has, so far, failed to deal with the problem. Its plans include building 600 extra houses for homeless people over the next five years, and it has commissioned its first “white paper on homelessness” with a focus on “how to invest in compassionate, market-based solutions which deal with this important social policy challenge”.

However “market based solutions” won’t fix the problem as it is the market that has caused the housing and rental affordability crisis, and that continues to ensure that youth wages remain low.

Real and immediate ways to start to solve the homeless crisis would be to massively increase the public funding of services and accommodation for homeless people. There’s a need for urgent and ongoing investment in public housing, rather than prioritising private housing development. The minimum wage should also be increased immediately and the “youth wage”, which ensures young people get paid less for the same amount of work, should be abolished.

In addition, youth homelessness would be significantly reduced by increasing accessibility to and the rate of the federal Youth Allowance and Newstart programs.

Instead, the Rudd government thinks the biggest issue facing young people is how much alcohol we drink!

Young people, so marginalised from political life in this country, have to organise and unite to ensure our voice is heard on this and many other problems that disenfranchise us.

[Tim Dobson is a Resistance activist in Wollongong.]

From GLW issue 749

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