Strategy to support homeless youth needed – Lifewise

It doesn’t take too long walking down the street in central Auckland to find people like 18-year-old Chris*.

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Photo: RNZ / Mohammad Fares

He and his younger brother are among thousands of young New Zealanders who have spent timing living on the streets.

“It is hard. I’m not gonna say it’s easy – it’s hard as but … I don’t really know what to say. It’s just … trying to find somewhere, keep moving. Always trying to find somewhere better than the next.

“Homelessness has been quite a big thing for me most of my life as a teenager really, and growing up on the streets, and hanging around. Because I grew up in foster care so it was very difficult to stay in one home”.

Non-profit organisation Lifewise Youth Housing Service leader Aaron Hendry said that there were no outreach services designed to meet the needs of young homeless people.

“There is a huge lack of housing and support services for young people experiencing homelessness and there’s a real need for a strategy to directly respond to the needs of young people, to ensure they are not missing out as we are designing housing and homelessness services”.

Ricky, 35, has been living on the streets for seven years.

He said although the government offered support for those sleeping rough, the streets could be a hard place for young people.

“It will not be easy for a kid. It will be easier for an adult because … kid needs heaps of support, you know? And it’s not fair on kid’s life to be like that”.

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Photo: RNZ / Mohammad Fares

Not far down the road, Rob* says he’s been on the streets for 12 years, and recently he is seeing more and more youth sleeping rough.

“We don’t like what we see when we see young people … we don’t like. It’s not the type of life that they should be living. Although if you take a look on some of the older people that have been out here, they have been out here since they were young kids.”

Although in 2020 Labour launched an action plan to reduce homelessness in New Zealand by 2023, Hendry said it did not include specific support for children experiencing housing issues.

“There’s more support for you if you’re an adult and you experience homelessness today, than there is if you’re a young person. If you’re 16 or 17, and you’re on the street tonight, there’s less available for you tonight than there would be if you were an adult. That really says that there’s something wrong,” he said.

Associate Minister of Housing Marama Davidson said the initial action plan failed to include specific programmes for young adults.

“There is a specific gap for example for supporting someone who is 17 years old, and that they actually need very specific support. Because the system, whether is trying to get a tenancy whether is public and social housing … that age group falls through.

“A focus on young people is critical, we haven’t had that specific highlight and that’s why we are pulling that through as an unique focus after the 18 months review, so that we can have a much more targeted and expertise approach to working with young people in homelessness,” she said.

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Photo: RNZ / Mohammad Fares

Meanwhile, Chris’ desire is that life becomes a little easier from now on.

“I’m just trynna help my … get me and my little brother somewhere better. Like, just get job, get my little brother in school, and just do stuff like that so we don’t have to struggle no more”.

The minister said the government would be working closely with non-profit organisations to improve the action plan for young adults on the streets.

She said announcements would be made in the coming weeks.

*Names have been changed

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