Australia's youth homelessness growing, report finds FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 9 Apr 1998 09:43:41 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Melbourne [Australia] Daily News  08 April 1998


By Carolyn Jones, Education Reporter

Australia risks creating an underclass of "wandering poor" unless
governments do something urgently to curb youth homelessness, according to
a new report.

The damning report, based on an eight-year academic study, says almost
one-third of the 100,000 young people who experience homelessness each year
are still at school.

It says a national approach to combat youth homelessness is urgently needed
because of overlapping and often conflicting state and federal policies.

The report cites changes in marriage patterns, rising divorce rates and the
contraction of job opportunities as key factors in the growth of youth

"Young people who leave home because of family conflict are unlikely to get
full-time employment if they drop out of school," the report said.

"In the 1950s and 1960s most of them avoided homelessness because they got
jobs. Now they cannot."

It says some schools are overwhelmed by the problem. At one large
metropolitan secondary school, staff were donating tinned food and a local
bakery was offering unsold bread for distribution among 46 homeless

The report, Youth Homelessness, Early Intervention and Prevention, has been
prepared by the Australian Centre for Equity through Education.

The authors, Mr David MacKenzie, the director of RMIT's Centre for Youth
Affairs, Research and Development, and Dr Chris Chamberlain, a senior
lecturer in sociology at Monash University, have called for a new Office
for the Status of Young People to tackle youth homelessness, drug abuse,
suicide and early school-leaving.

The report cites several research projects, including a national census of
homeless students in 1994. It found 21 per cent of government schools had
10 or more homeless students, and 5 per cent had 25 or more homeless

The census also found the risk of homelessness for young people in
"alternative" families was significantly higher than for those from
traditional, nuclear families.

Twenty-four per cent of homeless students came from families with parents
still together, while 76 per cent came from "alternative" family settings.

The report says while there are promising initiatives in some states, there
is no national action. Schools had a vital role because most young people
first experience homelessness while at school.

"Schools have generally operated as self-sufficient worlds whose main
mission is classroom teaching. Likewise, the community sector has operated
largely outside the education system. For early intervention to succeed,
this cultural Berlin wall must be breached.

"Australia does not have a visible underclass in the same way as Britain or
the United States, but youth homelessness is increasing. If large numbers
of these young people make the transition to chronicity, then an underclass
will emerge during the 21st century," the report says.


ARCHIVES  <>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <> or email Tom <>