Local initiatives show success in reducing youth homelessness and early school leaving

New research identifies measures that reduce youth homelessness as well as early school leaving.

16 April 2020

Children, adolescents and young adults are one of the largest user groups of homelessness services. In 2017–18, there were 81,193 young parents and accompanying children and 43,200 adolescents and young adults presenting alone to Specialist Homelessness Services.

New research released by AHURI today identifies measures that reduce youth homelessness as well as early school leaving. The research, ‘Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people’ was undertaken for AHURI by researchers from Swinburne University of Technology and the University of South Australia.

The research identified and proposed measures that could, if implemented, reduce youth homelessness and lead to improved outcomes for young people who experience homelessness.

Examination of a case study in Geelong, Victoria (The Geelong Project) showed that where an innovative ‘community of schools and services’ early intervention model (COSS Model) was used to support vulnerable young people and families, there was a significant 40 per cent decrease in adolescents (12–18-year-olds) entering the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) system, but at the same time also a reduction in disengagement from education and school.

‘The COSS model of early intervention is an exemplar of what is being called ‘collective impact’ and relies on strong local community leadership; proactively identifying vulnerable youth and families before the onset of crises, and a flexible practice framework that can provide efficient support’ says lead researcher Associate Professor David MacKenzie from Swinburne University of Technology. ‘The outcomes achieved by The Geelong Project has demonstrated what a place-based approach is capable of achieving, and this has generated interest nationally and internationally’.

The study also looked at a number of other promising support programs that can help prevent young people becoming or remaining homeless including a NSW-based social housing for youth initiative which is similar to the Canadian Housing First for Youth program—a youth-appropriate form of Housing First that provides a rapid-rehousing option for young people who are homeless.

Other initiatives examined in the study included subsidised private rental housing options such the NSW Youth Choices program; and youth foyers that tie education with supported accommodation but with a mandated linkage with exit points from Specialist Homelessness Services.

In particular, programs that support young people after they leave state care at age 18 have demonstrated success in enabling young people into independent living and a successful transition into secure housing.

Private rental remains an important option for housing after homelessness for about one quarter of adolescents aged 12–18 years and for one-third of young adults. However, 40–50 per cent of young people exit the SHS into situations of homelessness. The delivery of rapid rehousing and permanent safe and secure youth-appropriate housing remains a serious gap within the local service systems.

‘Our research supports the Home Stretch campaign, which seeks to change the current leaving care age for young people in state care from 18 until 21 years,’ says Associate Professor David MacKenzie. ‘The process of leaving care is one of those transitions where if support can be delivered—and delivered appropriately, sufficiently and for as long as necessary—it should be able to prevent a young person who leaves care becoming homeless.’

The research underpins that changes to supporting young homeless people should look at new ways of joining up services and linking homelessness service providers with mainstream agencies such as schools and educational programs, with a focus on local communities, rather than centrally-managed targeted siloed programs.

On Wednesday, 29 April 2020, AHURI will host its first Research Webinar Series to further examine this research. Assoc. Prof. David MacKenzie from the University of South Australia will discuss the state of youth homelessness in Australia and current policy responses; the case for system reform based on an analysis of current support interventions from Australia and overseas; and key policy recommendations to redesign the system based on what has proven successful in reducing youth homelessness.

This interactive webinar is free and open for registration. Participants will be able to submit questions throughout the presentation, followed by a Q&A session.

To register for the event, please visit the event page on the AHURI website.

The final report is available on the AHURI website.