Speech by The Hon Scott Morrison MP

Official opening – Yfoundations Recharge Conference, Sydney

To the youth ambassadors, thank you for your introduction and for sharing your experiences with us.

It must take courage to speak out the way you have done today about what you have been through.

I would like to thank Yvonne for her welcome to country and to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Gadigal of the Eora Nation.

I would like to acknowledge my State colleague Minister Brad Hazzard who takes a strong interest in homelessness issues here in NSW.

I acknowledge Dr Michael Coffey, CEO of Yfoundations, his conference organising team and the keynote speakers who are addressing issues that are key to finding solutions to homelessness, and in particular youth homelessness.

I want to acknowledge Kellie Checkley from Project Youth in my own electorate down in the Shire. Kellie, you can be quite confident, is a fearsome advocate on the issues of youth homelessness and others and has worked with me for many years since I became the Member for Cook. I really want to acknowledge Kellie in front of her peers. One of the reasons I have been able to come into this portfolio with a sound level of background knowledge and experience is because of the work I have seen Kellie doing first-hand in the Shire and the leadership she has shown. She is a great example of what can be achieved in the way she works and engages with people right across the spectrum to get great outcomes.

I was also particularly interested to see that Jethro Sercombe is joining the conference from Perth to share his experiences with Foyer Oxford in WA.

I visited Foyer Oxford earlier this year and will touch on that later.

But I would like to say right now that seeing developments like Foyer Oxford, seeing first-hand the work being done there, gives me enormous optimism.

Homelessness, including youth homelessness, is often presented as an intractable problem.

And the facts are confronting.

More than one in five of the more than 100,000 Australians homeless in Australia on any one night are aged between 15 and 24.

That is more than 20,000 young Australians without shelter on any and every night of the year.

One young person told a recent study, the “scariest thing that has happened to me was being homeless even for a short time”.[1]

As I have gone around the country, I have seen truly outstanding efforts to tackle this problem of youth homelessness.

Foyer Oxford is one of the most recent I have visited and one of the most impressive, but there are many others, including here in NSW.

That is why, as difficult as the problem is, I have a sense that if we keep at it, if we make wise, considered decisions, if we all work constructively and systematically together, the whole community, we will see results.

Two important points I would like to make this morning are these:

One is that the community at large has to recognise the complexity of what we are dealing with, as many of you do.

The causes of youth homelessness are many, some of them deep and disturbing.

So are the consequences.

Homelessness can have significant adverse effects on young people’s health, it interrupts their education, it makes it very difficult to qualify for and prepare for any type of job or career.

My second point is that if we are sincere about helping young people who find themselves homeless, we have to ensure funding is directed at where it will be effective.

We need to know what works.

While state and territory governments are responsible for service delivery, the Commonwealth is working with them to ensure homelessness services are effective.

As many of you will be aware, I announced earlier this year that the Government is committing a further $230 million over two years to renew the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH).

The agreement provides two years of federal funding for frontline services contingent on matching funding from the states and territories and agreed project plans.

I particularly congratulate the New South Wales Government and Minister Hazzard for their quick response in becoming one of the first states to sign the agreement, ensuring these funds can be distributed to worthwhile projects across this state. I look forward to visiting these projects in the future.

The NPAH funding had been scrapped by the former Labor Government.

In reinstating it, we have put the priority on services for women and children experiencing domestic and family violence, and homeless youth.

Over the next two years the combined sum of Commonwealth and State funding will be more than $460 million under the NPAH.

Better reporting requirements built into the agreement will also ensure not only that we are being prudent with taxpayers’ money but so we can focus on solutions.

We need to know what works so the problem of homelessness is not dismissed as intractable.

Nearly 40 per cent of young people seeking assistance from specialist homelessness services leave home because of family violence.[2]

Some have experienced homelessness many times, beginning as very young children fleeing family violence with a parent, usually a mother.

Later they leave home on their own.

A recent Australian study of young people who ran away from home by themselves because of violence between parents found the median age of their first experience leaving home was only 10.[3]

More than a third of the homeless young people in this study reported police coming to their home because of violence between parents on one or more occasions, with 14 per cent experiencing police coming to their house more than 10 times.[4]

The Government is a strong supporter of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children and reduce the factors that contribute to family breakdown and potential homelessness.

In the coming months, the Government, in collaboration with the States and Territories will begin a $30 million national campaign against domestic and family violence.

Family violence is an issue that has reached shocking proportions in our society and homelessness, including among young people, is one of the consequences that we simply cannot ignore.

Another of the complex issues contributing to and resulting from homelessness is mental health.

Often people who are homeless, including young people, can also be dealing with mental health issues.

This is why the National Partnership Agreement Supporting Mental Health Reform has a strong focus on providing people with severe and persistent mental illness with access to stable accommodation to help prevent them becoming homeless.[5]

Getting a job is also important for avoiding or exiting homelessness.

A report by Orygen Youth Health on young people with mental illness in Australia found their number one goal was to get into work or training.

In this year’s Budget, the Government committed $19.4 million over four years to trial two specialised models of employment support for young people up to the age of 25 with a mental illness.

These are some of the many issues that are part of the picture when we look at preventing homelessness.

And prevention is the theme of this year’s Homeless Persons’ Week, of which your conference is a highlight.

A prevention programme which has had marked success in helping prevent homelessness among young people is Reconnect.

Many of you will be aware that Reconnect was set up by the last Coalition Government, the Howard Government.

The programme has helped more than 79,000 young people over the last 14 years and the Government is continuing to invest $23.8 million a year so that it can continue its great work.

Reconnect reconciles families by helping them manage conflict and improve family communication.

As well as stabilising their living situations, Reconnect works across services to help improve engagement with education and training for young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The complexity of homelessness means this kind of cross sectoral collaboration is essential.

I believe this is one reason why the Foyer model is so successful.

As I mentioned, I went to Foyer Oxford recently and saw first-hand this incredibly innovative partnership between the education sector, the community housing sector through Foundation Housing, and Anglicare.

Places like this, providing supported accommodation on a transitional basis to help young people move out of crisis situations to have some stability in their lives are a great example of what can be achieved.

The concept is an exciting one, based as it is on a contract encouraging young people to unlock their potential to be in education, training or jobs, and to leave this service after two years to move into sustainable long-term accommodation in the private market.

Some 80% of people who complete the programme are moving into long-term accommodation. In terms of homelessness prevention, that is a very successful outcome and that is why programmes such as this receive support from the Federal and State governments.

Programmes like Foyer Oxford tackle the complexities of homelessness head on, providing a safe, caring environment and wrap-around services that support young people on to education, jobs and long term accommodation.

Moreover it is working, as I am sure Jethro Sercombe, the manager of Foyer Oxford will explain to you.

Another aspect of Foyer Oxford’s success is the support it has attracted from the corporate sector.

BHP Billiton committed $5 million to help get Foyer Oxford off the ground.

This partnership between the private, not-for-profit and government sectors has made for a stunning achievement.

It shows what can happen when we look at social issues not as isolated problems but as whole of community responsibilities.

As many of you would know Australian Foyers have been adapted from a successful UK model which was in turn adapted from the French, because youth homelessness is not just an Australian issue.

The number of young homeless people has been increasing throughout the western world, made worse in Europe by recent economic and financial crises.

As we have here, the Europeans are finding that integrated programmes like Foyer are the most effective ways of supporting young people out of homelessness, whilst tackling root causes such as family violence and abuse are also essential.

In Australia we are also looking at homelessness – and housing – as part of the reform of Federation process.

This too is about trying to find out what works.

All up, the Commonwealth and States together are putting many billions of dollars into housing and homelessness and yet we still have gaps.

The White Paper on the Reform of Federation is an effort to see if we can do better in the way we allocate roles and responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the States.

A Green Paper will be published later this year and I urge you all to have your say on whether, as a Federation, we can find better ways of delivering housing and homelessness assistance.

Of all issues, confronting homelessness needs to be informed by views from the grassroots if we are going to get it right.

I don’t underestimate the challenge, especially as homelessness affects our young people, but when I see the great work being done, I do believe we can make progress.

I wish you all the best for your deliberations over the coming two days.

[1] The Cost of Youth Homelessness in Australia Study.

[3] The cost of youth homelessness in Australia, Out of Home Care and Violence in the Home, page 8.

[4] The cost of youth homelessness in Australia, Out of Home Care and Violence in the Home, page 8.

[5] National Partnership Agreement Supporting Mental Health Reform, Outcomes, page 4