Media Release by Senator the Hon Amanda Vanstone

Homelessness amongst secondary school students

Today the Salvation Army in Melbourne put out a report that claims, over 8 years since 1994, there’s been an 8% increase in homeless kids. The report is the result of an August 2001 survey of public and catholic high schools around Australia.

The Commonwealth has taken a very active role in relation to youth homelessness since 1996. We established the Prime Minister’s Youth Homelessness Task Force, which was chaired by Captain David Eldridge of the Salvation Army. Responding to the recommendations of the Task Force we have implemented a range of programs – Reconnect ($60m over 4 years), the National Homelessness Strategy ($9.8m over 4 years), Career and Transition pilots ($3.6m) and the Partnership Outreach Education Model pilots ($4m over 2 years).

While I am sure our programs have helped slow the growth in the number of homeless kids, any increase is naturally of great concern to the Federal Government as it should be for state governments.

In particular I am most concerned about the 2% of young people that the survey found were sleeping rough, who had no accommodation, as it is these kids who are most vulnerable. I am also concerned about the 16% staying in refuges and hostels.

I would hope that the 82% of young people who are staying with friends, relatives or moving around private accommodation can access services to help them stay connected to family and school.

On the report’s methodology, the researchers assumed that for every 100 kids called ‘homeless’ who were attending big schools there were another 10 that hadn’t been found. This might be a fine assumption, but it might not be fact.

The researchers also admit that there’s more awareness of youth homelessness. This means that more young people will be counted, simply because schools know they are there.

Now let’s look at what the report says. It points to schools first and foremost. The research said “Most young people have their first experience of homelessness whilst they are still at school…Our core argument is that schools are primary sites for early intervention…Schools have a critical role to play”.

The States and Territories cannot duck this finding. They need to get more serious and do the right thing by kids in schools by offering support to prevent homelessness. We already know that young people are ending up in Commonwealth funded services and at least in some States/Territories this is because child protection systems are failing.

The number of homeless could have been much worse without the huge range of support the Coalition Government has offered young people since 1996.

I thank the Salvation Army for acknowledging that the, “Reconnect Program is providing a quality early intervention response…”. Our $60 million investment over four years for the Reconnect program has provided practical help to over 10,000 young people and their families since 1999 to help avoid family breakdown.

We have also allocated funding of more than $800 million over the five years to 2005 as part of the Supported Assistance Accommodation Program (SAAP), which funds accommodation and services for homeless people. The Commonwealth has put in an extra $75 million (9%) over the five years, which the States and Territories are not matching. Around 480 services were specifically helping young people.

Centrelink is a first port of call for many homeless young people. Centrelink has Community Officers who go to refuges, shelters, day centres and other places where homeless people gather. In addition, in 2001-02 Centrelink is also helping homeless people directly with 15 new projects. Three examples of these are:

  • In the St Kilda area of Melbourne, three housing support workers were seconded from Hanover Welfare Services to Centrelink to improve services to homeless jobseekers.
  • In Mt Isa, Qld, Centrelink works with the Riverbed Action Group to provide services to homeless customers who live in the riverbed.
  • In Currie St, SA, Centrelink improved service to homeless jobseekers who have mental health issues.

Centrelink and SAAP service providers are working together so that both parties can better understand the problems homeless people face. Fifty SAAP service providers spent three days in their local Centrelink Office and Centrelink staff also spent a day in the SAAP service.

Centrelink works intensively with early school leavers to develop strategies to keep them in education and training – their best chance of building a successful future. Also, Youth Participation Advisors focus on support young people who may be at risk.

Responding to the problems faced by young people who have been in the care of the State, the Commonwealth is introducing a $1000 payment to help them move to independent living – the Transition to Independent Living Allowance (TILA).

The Job Placement, Employment and Training (JPET) Program provides intensive help for young people who are homeless or ‘at risk’, particularly focusing on the needs of young offenders, refugees and those in care. Last year, JPET provided 15,500 support episodes, helping thousands of young people to access accommodation and income support, and pursue further education and employment.

As part of the Government’s on-going response to the Prime Minister’s Youth Pathways Action Plan Taskforce Report “Footprints to the Future”, in March 2002 the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Brendan Nelson, announced $3.6 million to fund 23 Career and Transition pilots (CATS) to support teenagers with planning, guidance, information and linkages with employers, Job Network providers and other community support agencies. And $4.0 million will be provided in 2002 and 2003 for more than 20 Partnership Outreach Education Model pilots (POEMS) to help young people who are disconnected for mainstream education.

Youth homelessness is particularly worrying, because it often means young people are denied the opportunity to benefit from participation in education, work, and community life. The Howard Government will continue to invest in innovative ways of preventing youth homelessness and work to safeguard the future of young Australians.