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Mission Australia report finds one in seven young people at risk of homelessness

Saskia Powell has experienced homelessness in the past but now has stable accommodation. Photo: Nick Moir One in seven young people risk becoming homeless, with a leading welfare group calling on all governments to increase support for vulnerable teenagers before they spiral into entrenched homelessness.

Mission Australia analysed the data in its annual survey of 19,000 young people, finding that 13.5 per cent of the 15- to 19-year-old respondents faced the threat of homelessness.

Young people who are homeless are more likely to suffer disrupted schooling, risky drug and alcohol use and mental illness.

The national report, to be released on Tuesday, found that the extent of youth homelessness is underestimated, as young people are more likely to couch surf or live in overcrowded dwellings.

Young people at risk of homelessness reported they had left the family home because they felt they had no alternative, with 85 per cent saying they had spent time away from home on more than one occasion over the past three years. About a quarter said they had left the family home more than ten times.

Just over half the teenagers who had left the family home reported a poor or fair relationship with their family, compared with about 14 per cent who had never spent time away from home.

“These results indicate that a disturbing number of our young people are at risk of homelessness,” Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans said.

“Having to leave the family home because they felt they couldn’t go back – with some young people having to leave on multiple occasions and for months at a time – coupled with a background of poor family relationships, means that these young people are very vulnerable to homelessness.”

Ms Yeomans said the report highlighted the need for improved early intervention services to support young people and their families.

“It makes sense to intervene early to address the risk factors rather than waiting until a young person is already homeless,” she said.

More than 100 federally funded services aimed at supporting children aged 12-18 to stay in the family home are under threat, with funding to cease in June next year.

Saskia Powell left the family home when she was 16, couch surfing, sleeping in garages, on trains and in railway stations.

“I just had nowhere to go,” she said.

Now 18, she says her years in unstable accommodation disrupted her schooling but taught her life skills.

“I couldn’t even wash my school uniform; I was living out of a bag,” she said.

After spending time in a youth refuge, Ms Powell moved into a rented flat in Potts Point and found a full-time job.

Joseph Altmann, 19, spent three years bouncing between mates’ places, his mother’s home and his father’s house in rural NSW before settling into a flat in Cooma, where he is now seeking bar work.

“I felt like I wasn’t really welcome anywhere,” he said. “I am really grateful to my mates for looking out for me, otherwise I’d be on the streets.”

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