A new youth report has called on Australian governments to urgently address high rates of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to give children a more stable start in life and the chance at a brighter future.
More than one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who participated in a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Survey by Mission Australia reported they had moved house more than twice in the past three years.
The rate was double that of non-Indigenous young people.
More than a quarter of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait young people also reported they had spent time away from home because they felt they could not go back, compared to one in 10 among non-Indigenous young people.
Professor Tom Calma, Chancellor of the University of Canberra and co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, said the levels of housing instability experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people was “deeply concerning”.
“As a matter of urgency, affordable housing is needed, particularly in remote areas, and more must be done to prevent homelessness among our young people, including by supporting families,” Professor Calma said.
“All young people should have a safe, secure, and stable home, and be protected from bullying and discrimination at school and in their community.”
The Mission Australia report recommends federal, state and territory governments fund more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned and controlled social and affordable homes in remote, regional and urban years.
It also recommends programs to prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people from becoming homeless or to intervene when they are at risk.
The programs would build on family strengths and address factors involved in homelessness such as the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, it said.
The study found stable housing was just one of a number of unique challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15 to 19.
Others included higher levels of personal concern about drugs, bullying and emotional abuse, personal safety, discrimination, alcohol, gambling, suicide, family conflict and depression.
About three in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths who participated in the survey were either extremely or very concerned about depression, while about a quarter reported feeling extremely or very concerned about family conflict, bullying or emotional abuse and personal safety.
More than half of the young people indicated they were happy about their lives, but nearly one in ten reported feeling very sad about their life. The figure compared to nearly one in 50 for non-Indigenous young people.
Mission Australia chief executive officer James Toomey said it was concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people faced “incredibly complex challenges”.
“We want all young people to grow up in an equitable, supportive society and Australia has a moral, social and economic duty to ensure all young people have the chance to reach their full potential,” Mr Toomey said.
“But still, far too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are lacking the supports they need to achieve their aspirations and to live happy, healthy lives.”
“This new report contributes to the evidence that too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are experiencing a concerning level of despair, which is fuelled by the severe shortage of culturally and age appropriate services in their communities.”
“Our nation needs to implement a far more inclusive and consultative way of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, so that they are involved in the identification of their needs, as well as the design and delivery of services that they need.”
A total of 1265 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15 to 19 years took part in the survey. A third lived in major cities and the remainder in regional areas.
Most — nearly 85 percent — were studying full-time. The majority had their sights set on going to university.
Mission Australia works with families, young people and children who are experiencing homelessness. It also provides services for mental health, disability and alcohol and drug issues.
By Wendy Caccetta