Swinburne research is helping to reduce the risk of homelessness for young Australians.
Homelessness comes at a high cost to society and the individual. It can threaten physical and mental health, and make simple activities, like going to school or getting a job, incredibly difficult.
On any given night in Australia, more than 100,000 Australians are homeless. Around 42% of these are young people aged under 25. Homeless people include those sleeping on the streets, in cars, at crisis centres, at other people’s places because they have nowhere else to go, and in overcrowded accommodation.
We're trying to understand and prevent youth homelessness
Swinburne research has made inroads into understanding and preventing youth homelessness.
In a significant breakthrough, Swinburne researchers developed a screening tool to predict homelessness. The researchers had examined the causes of homelessness over two decades, and identified factors that meant someone was at high risk of becoming homeless. This understanding formed the basis of the tool, which was developed by Swinburne in collaboration with the youth agencies Time for Youth and Barwon Youth, and the service provider Geelong Early Intervention Working Group.
In 2013, the tool was trialled in three high schools in Geelong, where it identified at-risk students. Those students were supported through counselling and monitoring, which significantly reduced the numbers of students using homelessness services in the Geelong community.
And it seems to be working
After the program was established, Geelong’s Specialist Homelessness Service recorded a 43% drop in the number of new users of the service, from an average of 230 per year (between 2003 and 2013) to an average of 130 per year in 2016/17.
In 2018, the Victorian Government allocated $2.8 million to extend the project to four more high schools in Geelong. In addition, the tool has now been trialled by public agencies in New South Wales, South Australia and Canada, and interest has been expressed by organisations in Queensland, Canberra and Albury–Wodonga.
So we're looking deeper
Swinburne researchers have also investigated couch surfing and early-stage homelessness in high school students, and the costs, predictors and impacts of youth homelessness. Importantly, their research has led to better collaborations between schools and youth homelessness service providers.
The research has also supported the development of effective new outreach services for vulnerable youth. For example, the findings of the Yarra Ranges Youth Homelessness Prevention Project helped to develop national workshops to help schools to identify and assist young homeless people. To date, outreach programs have been conducted in 57 schools, reaching 5,943 high school students across most Australian states. Anchor, another not-for-profit youth-focused welfare agency, has conducted focus groups and information sessions with local school teachers and welfare personnel, held youth forums and engaged community groups.