On 15 April, 2015 Youth Homelessness Matters Day (YHMD) shone a spotlight on youth homelessness in our community where 60% of Australia’s homeless population are under the age of 35. St Vincent de Paul Society Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon, took part in this ABC News 24 television interview with Eliza Harvey to address what needs to be done to prevent more youth slipping into homelessness. The full interview can be viewed on the St Vincent de Paul Society’s YouTube channel.
ELIZA HARVEY: One of Australia’s peak youth bodies says almost half of all homeless people in Australia are under the age of 25. The St Vincent de Paul Society is marking Youth Homelessness Matters Day by calling for radical action by the federal government to address the problem. Dr John Falzon is the Chief Executive of the charity and joins us live from Canberra. Welcome to the program John. Can I ask you first what is this radical action? What would it look like?
DR JOHN FALZON: It’s very simple, what we want to see is that every young person in Australia has access to the essentials of life— a place to live, a place to work and a place to learn. Rather than, being punished for being young, particularly to be punished for being young and unemployed, we want to see governments stepping up and actually supporting young people. For example, I would deeply love to see the government take off the table its vicious measure proposed in last year’s budget to force young people experiencing unemployment to survive six months of every year on fresh air and sunshine. You don’t reduce youth unemployment; you certainly won’t reduce youth homelessness by increasing youth incarceration and youth poverty. You don’t help young people into a job by forcing them into poverty.
So let’s look at unemployment, education– why on earth would we rip the guts out of the Gonski formula to make sure all young people have a fair crack at educational opportunity? And lastly, housing, we want to see a government that embraces its national responsibility to ensure that housing is a human right and not just a privilege.
HARVEY: And yet many of the things you’ve just mentioned there, maybe taking the welfare changes of the table [aside], are being done. Would you acknowledge that that a lot of work is underway and yet it is a very difficult problem?
DR FALZON: Yes it is a very difficult problem but it depends on how you want to look at the problem. Do you want to prevent the problem in the first place? If you do, whilst we need to increase and sustain the quantum of funding for specialist homelessness support services, and whilst we need to not close down such excellent programs such as Youth Connections that target young people who are in danger of unemployment and disconnection from the labour market and from learning, we also need to prevent youth homelessness in the first place.
And that means, for example, if you are struggling to survive on a youth allowance— it is clearly inadequate. And you’re likely to be seeing over 60% in some cases of your meagre payment being swallowed up on private rental accommodation. Now that’s a recipe for increasing homelessness.
HARVEY: Sure. Sorry to interrupt you, but are you saying there with lots of these examples that if these programs are not cut or not reinstated that this number that we’re talking about tonight will get worse?
DR FALZON: Absolutely, we are going to see an avalanche of social problems. We are going to very easily fall into the absolutely unconscionable mode of blaming young people for their own exclusion. Which is absolutely unforgiveable but we do it already. When these young people, who are unsupported, who are needing to leave home, for instance due to reasons of violence and abuse, they find themselves without support and then they end up face to face with the criminal justice system. So what do we do instead of addressing the problem? We lock them up, sadly being locked up often follows hotly on the heels of being locked out. And this isn’t a problem that needs small change, it’s a problem that needs major social change.
HARVEY: Alright, Dr John Falzon from the St Vincent de Paul Society unfortunately that’s all we’ve got time for but thanks for your time tonight.
Watch the interview on the St Vincent de Paul Society’s YouTube channel.