IT’S the serious social problem affecting more than 44,000 Australian children and young people, and costing us hundreds of millions.
But new research suggests early investment in preventing youth homelessness could save the government an estimated $626 million per year, and save young Australian lives.
Knowing money talks, Mission Australia has worked to uncover the true cost of the issue in its report through undertaking interviews with homeless young people aged 14 to 24.
Researchers found costs to the community averaged about $17,868 for each homeless young person. An average cost of $8500 per person or $355 million per year was found to be spent on health services associated with young people experiencing homelessness.
Costs to the economy associated with the criminal justice system was averaged at $9363 per person per year, or $391 million across all young people aged 15 to 24 accessing specialist homelessness services.
Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans said the report painted a stark picture of the cost to society of failing to support vulnerable young people.
“Importantly, the study shows that preventing young people from becoming homeless in the first place could save governments an estimated $626 million per year across the youth justice and health services systems alone,” she said.
The community service organisation is using its research to urge the government to invest in preventing young people from ending up homeless.
“We know from our experience that the long term prospects for young people who become homeless are not good; a disjointed education, lack of support network, risky drug and alcohol use and mental illness. It makes sense to intervene early to address the risk factors rather than waiting until a young person is already homeless.
“These early intervention efforts can reduce the need for specialist services further down the line, as well as health and justice costs and greatly improve the wellbeing of vulnerable young people by preventing homelessness before it occurs.”
The report also looked at drivers of youth homelessness, finding family violence one of the major factors.
Nearly half (48 per cent) of homeless youth surveyed reported police coming to their home because of violence between parents on one or more occasion.
More than half (56 per cent) had left home because of violence between parents or guardians on at least one occasion.
Another report released earlier this month found the numbers of homeless young people affected by domestic violence was under-reported, finding around 80 per cent of young people in NSW who sought help from homelessness services had experienced violence in the home.
The Cost of Youth Homelessness report also found nearly two in three (63 per cent) of the homeless young people had been placed in out-of-home care by the time they turned 18. The experience of violence and out-of-home care were both found to be major factors in the life experience of the homeless young people in the study.
Ms Yeomans said the government had to take a “zero tolerance” approach to young people becoming homeless once they leave the out-of-home care system .