Think about it: Youth homelessness is a cry for help!

On #YHMD2017, Centacare’s Tracy Ingram is calling on the community to think harder about youth homelessness.

“People often equate homelessness with bad behaviour so there’s zero tolerance,” says Tracy, Manager of Outer North Youth Homelessness Services (ONYHS).

“They don’t see the underlying trauma.

“Yes, many young people who are homeless might be behaving poorly, but there’s a good reason for that: they are self-saving.

“The young people we work with are in flight or fight mode all the time. They are either going to fight you, or they are running away.

“They don’t know how to operate because they have never felt safe.”

In most instances, this is due to conflict, unresolved crisis and other complexities, such as mental health and drug issues, family breakdown and accrued debt, Tracy says.

In response, Centacare has begun training staff in trauma-informed care as an increasing number of young people present in distress caused by “lots of traumatic events over lots of time”.

This is exacerbated by high unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing.

“Back in the day we were a housing provider; now we are a support provider,” says Tracy, noting the prevalence of trauma as a driver for homelessness compared to 16 years ago when she began working in the sector.

“Trauma was evident then but the intergenerational and psychological impact it had on young people wasn’t recognised to the same extent it is today.

“We’ve been working in a therapeutic way for a number of years but we want to take that further.”

In 15/16, ONYHS supported 512 people aged 15 to 25 across the Playford, Gawler and Barossa council areas. Of those young people, 269 were living homeless, 199 were experiencing mental health issues, 52 were fleeing domestic violence and eight were under the guardianship of the minister.

“If staff have a better understanding of trauma and how it impacts the young people, we will find different ways to connect with them.

“A young person might be really bad at cleaning their room but they also might have been locked in their room at home for six months – maybe more – unable to leave or shower.

“If they weren’t fed properly and had no good clothes, then they become hoarders and don’t clean up after themselves because they don’t know how.”

Tracy says #YHMD2017 is a chance to inform South Australians about vulnerable young people and “where they’ve come from”, and break the stigma of youth homelessness.

“Many of these young people don’t have good role models or boundaries in their life, so they don’t have the opportunity to learn like we do.

“Think a little more widely about homelessness than just what you see because it might be a cry for help.”

How we are supporting at-risk young people

Outer North Youth Homelessness Services provides case management, early intervention, and outreach, post-crisis and wait-list support to young people aged 15-25 years old who are homeless or at risk of homelessness across the Playford, Gawler and Barossa council areas. Services are delivered to young people at home and in a family context. Centacare has 36 properties in the area from Elizabeth to Nurioopta that can be allocated to clients once they have been assessed. The service has helped young people resume education, and gain employment and long-term housing. This in turn has provided outcomes such as reunification with children and familial stability.

Carlow Place is a 24-hour supported core and cluster residential facility located at Elizabeth. The service includes emergency and intensive support for young people aged 15 to 18 years who are homeless.