Homeless get younger

Mary Bolling

September 21, 2007 12:00am

MELBOURNE'S homeless are getting younger, with more teenagers and families struggling to find a safe place to stay.

A new report by the Lord Mayor's Charitable Fund shows the number of people seeking homeless services jumped 26 per cent in the past five years.

Most are under 35, with many young women and children turning to emergency accommodation to escape domestic violence.

At the same time, charities that provide homelessness support have the highest turnaway rate of any emergency provider.

The report, based on consultation with 11 support agencies, calls for initiatives to get people out of the homeless cycle, including a "homeless hotline" and supported accommodation.

Today, the LMCF will gather many of those providers for a round table on the crisis.

The report and round table follow the group's Heart of Melbourne Appeal launch, which featured local celebrities in a soup kitchen lineup.

LMCF chief Andrew Chappell said that campaign, and the recent rise of the Choir of Hard Knocks, were changing attitudes to homeless people.

"The report lists the statistics, and I don't think it's hard to convince people that it's a tough situation," he said.

"People are really starting to lock into the stories, and realising that homeless people could just as easily be a relative or a friend."

"But the good news from this report is, the agencies know what needs to be done to fix it.

"There is really no need for anyone to be homeless in Melbourne, when we do live in such a wealthy society

"Even if it's complex and hard and expensive, we can really afford to turn this situation around."

Urban Seed is another agency determined to change attitudes. Chief executive Gordon Preece takes school and corporate groups on "Urban Issues" tours, identifying rough-sleeping haunts and syringe bins in city alleyways.

"They see the top end of the city, the opulence of the Paris end of Collins St, compared to the incredible need down the alleys -- and it's literally only a building that separates them," Mr Preece said.

Mr Preece is also keen to highlight the success stories.

Urban Seed's work includes managing Cafe Credo, a free lunch centre that attracts up to 90 people every day.

Old and young, and even a few babies in prams, gather around tables for the midday meal -- and Mr Preece said the family atmosphere gives disconnected homeless people a chance to reconnect.

Mr Preece said family breakdown, drugs, and especially an epidemic of binge drinking, were creating a new generation of homeless youth.

"There is a real binge drinking culture among a lot of teenagers, and parents often aren't equipped to deal with the sorts of drastic behaviour that it triggers," he said.

"So the kid might leave home and stay with friends for a while, but then the friends can't cope with it . . . and often the last place to go is the street."

More drug use is also resulting in more psychosis.

Last week, another survey of homeless people by Melbourne City Council found 56 per cent were between 15 and 34. And 8 per cent said they had children with them -- a total of 20 children with no permanent home.

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