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The youthful face of homelessness

07 April 2022

Community services
In our society, there is a persistent image of youth homelessness as the teenager sleeping rough on city streets with nowhere else to go.

Horizon House

 The less visible reality is that there are thousands of young people who are not yet homeless, but are living in homes that don’t provide the necessary physical or emotional safety. 

Living in homes where there is violence, addiction, overcrowding, abuse or poverty, these young people often don’t have anywhere to turn. In addition to crisis services being overwhelmed, many services aren’t available to young people living in these circumstances because they aren’t ‘officially’ homeless. 

Surviving, not thriving

Whether it’s couch surfing or bunking with friends, young people at risk of homelessness will often find ways to stay away from home as much as possible, whilst also staying off the streets. But this doesn’t protect them from the complex issues they still face. 

Young people are vulnerable to this sort of disruption and often have higher rates of substance abuse, mental health issues, are less engaged at school and less likely to look after their physical health if they don’t feel safe at home. 

From the outside, what many people may see when they look at a young person at risk of homelessness is a difficult teenager. However, what these young people need most is to feel safe and supported.

Providing a place of safety can help set young people experiencing such trauma on the path to discovering their strengths and goals and lead them towards a more hope-filled future. 

Impacts of the pandemic

The COVID pandemic has without question, taken its toll on our young people. Many places that would have been places of temporary safety, such as community support services, sports, recreation groups, schools and workplaces, have had their operations limited or stopped for a period of time.

Isolation has become a regular occurrence and the means to escape from a turbulent home life disappeared overnight in many instances, effectively cutting off young people from their only support networks and places of safety. 

The number of young people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness has been steadily on the rise, with COVID and the rental accommodation crisis across Australia adding even more complexity, particularly in regional and remote areas. 

Offering safety and hope

When I took on the role of Director Homelessness and Support Services, one of the things that energised me about leading our youth support service, Horizon House, was being part of an early intervention service providing support to people at risk of being lost in the gaps. 

People who, without the necessary support, could easily become the next face we see sleeping in a city doorway relying on coins given by strangers for their next meal. 

For the young people that come into our care, Horizon House provides safety and stability to those who need a more secure environment to call home. 

Our job is not to replace the role of parents or guardians, rather we support the young people at Horizon House to develop the skills needed to achieve their goals and realise their potential.

Last financial year, we were able to provide secure accommodation to 124 young people, including 30 young mothers and their babies, who were all either experiencing or were at risk of homelessness.

As we look towards the future at St John of God Horizon House, I anticipate taking these valuable services even further, supporting the communities around us to end homelessness and provide safe, supportive services to those who need us most. 

About Horizon House

St John of God Health Care’s Horizon House Program provides accommodation, care and support to young people aged 16 to 22 years who are currently experiencing, or are at serious risk of, homelessness. Horizon House operates in various locations in Western Australia and Victoria. Specialist support is available for young mothers and Aboriginal young men in some locations. 

More information: sjog.org.au/horizonhouse
Naomi Boyd
Naomi Boyd - Director Homelessness and Support Services
Naomi Boyd is Director Homelessness and Support Services at St John of God Social Outreach. In this role, Naomi leads our Casa Venegas and Horizon House services. A mental health nurse with postgraduate qualifications in healthcare leadership and management, Naomi has spent two decades working in the sector. She is passionate about recovery and trauma informed care, which are the foundation of the Casa Venegas and Horizon House services.