Youth homelessness is a cry for help. It is not a choice, writes Dale West of Centacare Catholic Family Services in South Australia. Source: The Advertiser.
In most cases, it is the last resort for young people who would rather live in fear with no place to go than under a roof where they are equally as vulnerable.
For many young people, homelessness starts at home and is the culmination of multiple traumatic events over their short lifetimes.
This can include repeated episodes of abuse and neglect, conflict, violence, unresolved crisis and other complexities such as mental health, drug issues and family breakdown.
Some young people will have experienced the full gamut of trauma before they even hit double figures.
Although hard to fathom, if more of us viewed homelessness through this lens, perhaps we would be less quick to judge and more inclined to help the 28,000 young Australians who do not have a home and are often hidden from view – in couch-surfing situations, cars and inappropriate dwellings.
Where once Centacare was primarily a housing provider, we are now a support provider, responding to the multiple and complex needs of those brave enough to reach out for help.
From July 2018 to March this year, Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service helped 346 young people from across the Playford, Gawler and Barossa regions.
More than half the young people presented with mental health challenges, 197 were homeless on intake and 123 were supported for trauma, all exacerbated by high unemployment and unaffordable housing.
Embedding a deeper understanding of trauma across our services is helping staff predict behaviours and more thoughtfully respond to young people.
For example, a teenager’s refusal to eat may be due to deprivation or denial of food as a child. Perhaps they hoard possessions because they’ve gone without their whole life.
By taking responsibility for understanding how trauma impacts their past, we are able to make more informed responses.
– Dale West is Director of Centacare Catholic Family Services