Youth Homelessness soars in world’s most liveable city

Homeless woman Rebecca creating loom bands.

Homeless woman Rebecca creating loom bands.

One chilly winter morning in Melbourne’s CBD, a woman sits alone on the concrete footpath.

She gazes into the distance as people walk past, failing to acknowledge her presence.

The woman’s only possessions are a beanie with some coins and a box full of loom bands.

“I use my creativity to create loom bands and try to sell them to anyone who walks past”, Beck says.

“I ask interested people to pay what they think they are worth.”

Some of the loom bands made by homeless woman Rebecca.

Some of the loom bands made by homeless woman Rebecca.

Rebecca is a 25 year-old woman who is pregnant with her first child.

She has no form of identification nor does she receive any payment from Centrelink.

Rebecca has been left to support herself, after ending an abusive relationship several months ago.

“I am glad that I made the choice to leave but it’s hard getting by day to day. I struggle to find a place to stay each night”, Rebecca says.

Recently, Melbourne was named the world’s most liveable city for the fourth consecutive year in a row.

This fact is difficult to comprehend when you see a young woman like this who has lost everything but her creativity.

In Melbourne, there are currently 11,000 people aged 12 to 25, who like Rebecca, live without any form of shelter or suitable accommodation.

There is the common misconception that all homeless youth live on the streets, when in reality it is only a small percentage of that population.

However, all homeless youth including Rebecca, lack a sense of security, stability and safety.

The majority of homeless youth (57%) drop out of school before completing year 10 and experience a life of long-term unemployment.

Homeless organisations provide dislocated youth with important services, on a daily basis.

Melbourne City Mission offers several services including Frontyard.

Frontyard provides an open, inviting space for young people who desperately require assistance.

In the reception area, employees huddle around the computers, assisting two young people who have walked through the door.

The Frontyard building.

The Frontyard building.

The reception area of Frontyard.

The reception area of Frontyard.

“A person in need of our services will consult with a social worker on site. The social worker will engage with them in a conversation about their circumstances, in order to establish a suitable service”, Community Engagement Manager of City Mission Steve Haylock says.

“We offer everything from medical and legal services to accommodation.”

Steve has been on a walk with a group of primary school students.

“I take primary and secondary school students on tours around the city. I show them the areas where homeless people sleep”, Steve Haylock says.

His work with Frontyard provides an educational yet confronting experience for these students.

“(The tour) is about providing students with a sense of perspective, to put them in the shoes of someone who is homeless. The students are gob smacked when they see what is happening.”

Haylock believes that education is the key to addressing youth homelessness.

It is important for young people to stay connected with the community, stay in school and not drop out.”

Frontyard is not the only organisation that aims to make a difference to the lives of young homeless people.

Below the fob watch clock in Melbourne Central is a café that is cooking up a storm.

STREAT is a food service enterprise, which provides disadvantaged youth with a supported pathway, from the streets to a sustainable livelihood.

STREAT in Melbourne Central.

STREAT in Melbourne Central.

“At STREAT we aim to teach disadvantaged kids basic working skills that are required to secure work within the hospitality industry”, Sophie Ryan says.

Sophie Ryan is STREATS Catering Manager and manages the organisation’s inner city cafes.

“I work with kids aged 16 to 25 who are disadvantaged or are at risk of experiencing homelessness. I am responsible for mentoring each young person that enters our programs.”

Since STREAT began in 2008, 120 young people have participated in the organisations intensive programs.

Last year alone, 85 young people completed a program with STREAT.

Melbourne City Mission and STREAT have made a profound difference to the lives of homeless youth.

Steve Haylock and Sophie Ryan say their organisations have experienced their fair share of success.

“The Melbourne City Mission Foyer program has had a large success rate. The program provides young people with a place to sleep and study. They are able to successfully stay off the streets and never come back”, Steve Haylock says.

“A couple of students completed the TAFE certificate II in hospitality, through STREAT. They went on to find work within the hospitality industry as chefs and live in their own accommodation”, Sophie Ryan says.

However, there is still a long way to go.

Steve Haylock says the general public needs to get involved, to help address the issue of youth homelessness.

“The public can donate to organisations that aim to make a difference like Frontyard. The public can also help with funding. We seek additional funding, in order to successfully complete our work.”

When asked about the future, homeless woman Rebecca hesitates.

She ponders momentarily, before sharing her hope to establish a better life for herself and her unborn child.

“I hope to one day have a life that is not on the streets. I want my daughter to have a great life and have the opportunities that I never did.”

Maybe one day when she is no longer on the streets, Rebecca will walk past a homeless person, who like herself, is in desperate need of help.

Rebecca will stop to help them, without thinking twice about it.

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