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Youth homelessness needs a closer look

Youth homelessness needs a closer look

April 15th is Youth Homelessness Matters Day, and social development agency Lifewise and youth development organisation Youthline have teamed up to raise awareness about youth homelessness in New Zealand. Together, the two organisations will be deconstructing common myths surrounding youth homelessness, highlighting an issue that has long-term health, social and economic consequences in our communities. Homelessness is a growing problem in New Zealand, with youth homelessness contributing a substantial part of this growth. People can become homeless as a result of issues surrounding income inequality, unaffordable housing, domestic violence and lack of support when leaving services such as foster care, hospital and prison. More than 30,000 New Zealanders are severely housing deprived, and it is estimated that nearly half of New Zealand’s homeless are under the age of 25.

Despite these figures, youth homelessness often goes unseen. In order to raise awareness and develop solutions, Lifewise and Youthline believe it’s crucial to combat common misconceptions. For many, the term “homeless” conjures up images of older people sleeping in parks and asking for spare change, but there are a large number of young people without adequate housing, who are almost statistically invisible.

“People you see sleeping rough on the street are only the tip of the iceberg,” says Moira Lawler, General Manager of Lifewise. “New Zealand has a growing population of “hidden homeless,” people living in cars, on other people’s couches, in garages, and in extremely overcrowded conditions. Many are young people who have to make do with either poor housing conditions, or no housing at all, because unlike many adults, they have extremely limited access to resources.” A common belief is that young people choose to be homeless, but when you talk to people sleeping rough, this isn’t the full story. Lifewise recently worked with the Auckland Council and Auckland City Mission to find out why people end up sleeping rough in Auckland’s city centre. Young people often said it was their choice to sleep rough, but this was because they had no other option.

“Deciding to leave home with nowhere to go is never a decision made lightly,” says Youthline Auckland Central Centre Manager, Kathryn Doughty. “Commonly, financial obstacles and a history of abuse or instability make independent living extremely difficult. We see this all too often. Young people are vulnerable, and often have less access to things adults take for granted, such as having money in the bank or being able to call on family in times of need."

The fact that young people must leave foster care at the age of seventeen also contributes to youth homelessness. “Young people in foster care have already had disrupted lives, and are less likely to have supportive family networks to rely on,” says Moira. “Any parent of teens knows how unrealistic it is to expect a seventeen year old to be completely independent. You can’t even sign a lease agreement until you’re eighteen, which is hardly a recipe for secure housing.” Youth homelessness is an economic drain on New Zealand and a tragic loss of potential for those trapped in the cycle. With homeless youth more likely to become homeless as adults, it is important to find ways to help these vulnerable young people. Lifewise and Youthline believe that it is possible to end youth homelessness in New Zealand, and are working to find ways to support young people. Launching a social media campaign on Youth Homelessness Matters Day, the two organisations are working together to raise awareness of youth homelessness in New Zealand, suggesting ways Kiwis can help young people who are struggling, and sharing the message that it’s OK to ask for help. You can learn more by visiting www.facebook.com/lifewiseNZ and www.facebook.com/Youthline.Changing.Lives


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