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Rate of First Nations youth homelessness at a high on Youth Homelessness Matters Day

Emma Ruben -

Recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows 30 per cent of unaccompanied homeless children and young people presenting to homelessness services are Indigenous.

The AIHW also reports the rate of homelessness has declined over time but is 10 times higher for First Nations people than non-Indigenous Australians.

April 19 was Youth Homelessness Matters Day. Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Forum and Aboriginal Housing Victoria used the occasion to draw attention to the number of First Nations people homeless on their own land.

AHHF chair and AHV executive officer Darren Smith said one explanation for the number of homeless First Nations youth is the housing system is not built to support Aboriginal people.

"Recent homelessness census data showed us the scale of what we are seeing on the ground - vulnerable young people at the mercy of a discriminatory housing system that is not built for them, or their families," Mr Smith said.

"Of the 24,930 First Nations people experiencing homelessness across the country, 5895 of them were aged under 12 years, while 3222 were aged from 12 to 18 years.

"In Victoria we know domestic violence is a key driver of homelessness for First Nations women and children."

Earlier this year the Victorian Public Tenants Association called for the state government to extend funding for their pilot Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tenant Advocate Program.

This program falls in line with the goals of Mana-na Woorn-tyeen Maar-takoort (Every Aboriginal Person Has a Home), the Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Framework.

The program brings in First Nations advocates who are able to provide a culturally appropriate approach by visiting community-controlled organisations and building relationships with First Nations housing renters and applicants.

VPTA executive officer Katelyn Butterss said their aim with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tenant Advocate Program was to ensure individuals and families could get back on track and remain safely and securely housed.

"A harsh reality is that if funding isn't extended we can't continue to offer the service. Culturally appropriate and independent housing advice has not been available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria" she said.

"And we're running the risk of 12 months after the program has started the advice will again not be available.

"There's just so much more to do. This is not a one-year job, this is a generational job."

According to the VPTA, First Nations people are 15 times more likely to be homeless.

Mr Smith contended Victoria's bail laws have also contributed to the number of First Nations young people who are homeless.

"There is no doubt Victoria's archaic bail laws introduced in 2018 have contributed to the scale of First Nations young people in our of home care, as women, often mothers, are frequently denied bail if they have no fixed address," he said.

"These policies drive more and more Aboriginal children into out of home care where their risk of homelessness is dramatically increased."

AHV and the AHHF support calls to the federal government for the creation of a targeted and standalone Child and Youth Homelessness and Housing Strategy.

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