Youth Homelessness in Ballarat

By Stephanie Jensen

Homelessness is a persisting problem in the city of Ballarat. Events such as Christmas in July and the National Homeless Persons' Week in August have been established as permanent fixtures on the calendar to promote awareness and concern for those who consistently go unnoticed. As we leave the harsh winter months behind, those left still standing find themselves warmer, yet no better off. The Ballarat Soup Bus sees a consistent amount of homeless attendance, who are sustained by a nightly meal they have no hope of providing for themselves. These people are well below the poverty line, and are kept alive by hand-outs, foraging and occasional free meals. For most people, notions of homelessness will conjure up images of an elderly man, raving in the street, on his last bottle and paying the price for an irresponsible lifestyle and addictive personality.

This stereotype has been irrevocably shattered, however, by the increasing problem of youth homelessness, showing that although so much has been achieved through the Salvation Army and donations, the problem of homelessness has nonetheless managed to traverse generations. And how couldn't it? The social, political and economic environment our youths face today is undeniably formidable; in an age where one would need a degree just to get a job in the mailroom at a law firm, what happens to those who can't afford (through lack of familial support or funds) a university education? There are many who are encouraged by unemployment rates, which haven't risen above five per cent for quite some time; yet a more qualitative perusal of such stats will inevitably paint a less positive picture: full-time positions, enough for a person to live on, are scarcer than ever, with a trend towards part-time, casual and relief work. Many of the jobs that offer such limited hours are also notorious for their lack of permanence and consistency, further limiting the choices that youth have today.

But joblessness doesn't guarantee homelessness. Rather, it is one of the factors which contribute significantly to the economic slippery slope that leads to stretched household budgets and unstable home lives. While Ballarat residents are being constantly informed of the significant homeless presence in their own backyard, it becomes an issue of turning public concern into public action. We all know what homelessness looks like, but what are the causes? These can be as varied as they are damaging; this variety has the potential to muddy what we think we know about the homeless population. The face of homelessness has changed: the spectrum can include both employed and unemployed, students and professionals, PhDs and freelancers. What these unlikely victims lack is a solution that addresses the roots of the problems that led to their homelessness; whether they are on the street or couch-surfing, it creates a vicious cycle that is self-perpetuating often unbreakable. The denial of one of the basic constituents to human life, shelter, is both the result of devastation, and is devastating. Unless true actions are taken to make sustainable differences to these people's lives, this social problem may persist to reach an ever-more tragic end.

 

Are you a young person who wants their opinion heard? Lead On Ballarat is looking for young people to work with journalists to write on youth issues. For more information contact Lead On Ballarat: ballarat@leadon.com.au

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