In 2016 an estimated 2,000 young people aged 18 years and under were reported to be experiencing homeless in WA, with another 2,230 living in marginal housing such as caravan parks, overcrowded situations or improvised dwellings.
While these numbers are high, it is recognised that much youth homelessness continues to go unreported. Homelessness has a serious impact on young people’s wellbeing, including leading to poorer physical and mental health, difficulties in attending and learning in school, and increased exposure to risk of harm.
On Friday, 12 November 2021 Mike Rowe, Director General Department of Communities, and Sandy McKiernan, Acting CEO of the Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia (YACWA), co-hosted a roundtable on youth homelessness in Western Australia. The event was attended by around 40 high-level representatives from government and the youth and homelessness service sectors, including Shelter WA.
The roundtable explored the challenges facing young people who experience homelessness, and participants workshopped a range of potential solutions to these challenges. During a powerful exercise led by facilitator Christina Kadmos, Director General Mike Rowe played the role of a newly homeless 15-year-old trying to find accommodation and support. The exercise provided a stark picture of the difficulties children and young people face navigating the service system and accessing supports, as well as the impact of the lack of long-term safe and suitable accommodation.
The roundtable also heard about the specific vulnerabilities of particular cohorts of young people, including the concerning findings of the Youth Pride Network’s new State of Play Report on LGBTIQA+ young people’s experiences of the homelessness system and the difficulties and discrimination experienced by some young people seeking help. That report will be released in December 2021.
Dr Gaye McKenzie, author of the ‘Homeless Service System Alignment Analysis and Road Map‘, spoke to roundtable attendees about the Road Map and discussed what the shift in approach might mean for youth homelessness services.
It is anticipated that the roundtable will be the first of many conversations placing a strategic focus on youth homelessness.
Shelter WA looks forward to continuing to work with YACWA, the Department of Communities and the sector more broadly towards improving policy responses and building the capacity of the service system to meet the demand for youth homelessness services, including through a focus on prevention and early interventions.