What does it mean to be a homeless ‘young person’ in Australia?

| March 27, 2015

Between the age of 18 and 22, there is a gap in government allowances for young people coming out of state care. Sophie Ryan says as this puts them at risk of homelessness we need a State care system that is more ‘person focused’ rather than pushing through the numbers.

What does it mean to be a ‘young person’ in Australian society? In some circumstances ‘young people’ are seen to be lazy and expectant of entitlements by others (who are not ‘young people’ by the way) who have decided that the role of a ‘young person’ in society is to be either earning or learning, depending on their nuclear family unit for financial revenue before they can themselves contribute to our economy.

This social construction is heavily influenced by social policy embedded with values that may be seen by some as an unrealistic, generic and stylized view that does not ‘fit’ for all ‘young people.’

A group of ‘young people’ who do not ‘fit’ this definition are those who are transitioning out of the State care system. A survey recently done by Swinburn University surveyed 400 homeless young people and found that an alarming 63% have come out of foster and residential care (Radio National, 2015).

Paul McDonald, CEO of Anglicare spoke on Radio National (2015) stated that the issue is that there are insufficient transition arrangements and care ends abruptly when a child turns 18. With government allowances not being made available until the age of 22, this puts young people coming out of state care at high risk of homelessness and this is evident in the recent statistics (Radio National, 2015).

Crane, Kaur and Burton (2013) cite Anglicare (2013) and Jacobs, Atkinson et al (2010) in their research paper Homelessness and Leaving Care: The experiences of young adults in Queensland and Victoria. They noted that the private rental market is too expensive for young people on the minimum wage or income support and that increasingly public housing is only available to people who are receiving Government welfare or who have ‘high needs.’

However, what constitutes ‘high needs?’ Doesn’t being homeless indicate a high need for stable housing? This takes us back to the social construction of young people having a secure nuclear and financially stable family to rely upon.

However, has anyone stopped to consider that young people coming out of State care have been there for reasons that point to not having come from this stylized view of family? Aren’t we as a society further marginalizing the marginalized? The State care system is seen to be looking after those who are the most ‘vulnerable’ in society, the children. However, does a person stop being ‘vulnerable’ once they turn 18? When a young person leaves foster or residential care, they also lose contact with a network of formal supports putting them at higher risk (Crane et al, (2013). For most young people leaving care, they have very little social support, being involved in State care in the first place.

So, what does it mean to be a homeless ‘young person’ in Australian society? They do not fit the social and political ideology for what a ‘young person’ should be doing – earning and learning – so where does this leave them?

If as a society we advocated for those who are marginalized, if we had a State care system that was more ‘person focused’ rather than pushing through the numbers, maybe a homeless ‘young person’ would just be a ‘young person.’

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Sophie Ryan
Sophie Ryan is a fourth year Social Work student at QUT. She holds strong values in social justice and equality which she uses in her current work as a Disability Case Manager. In addition to her work and university life she is married, has a small yet close group of friends and is active in her church community. Her favourite quote is from Wilfred Peterson: Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it.

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