Homelessness is not ‘rooflessness’: there are young people who may not be sleeping rough but who do not have safe and stable housing. Research at Brisbane Youth Service has addressed a critical knowledge gap on the prevalence and experiences of young people couch surfing.
In partnership with Dr Katie Hail-Jares at Griffith University, we have analysed multiple years of client data to identify concerning links between young people’s experiences of couch surfing and reports of poor mental health and disconnection from support. This research also included qualitative interviews with young couch surfers funded by Brisbane City Council and the Department of Child Safety; and the trial of a dedicated couch surfing service and practice tools funded by the Queensland Mental Health Commission.
Research at BYS focuses on the intersectional challenges faced by young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, including mental health and domestic and family violence. Our research has also highlighted the innovative and adaptive approaches to practice trialled and adopted at BYS in times of uncertainty and volatility.
It’s time we turned off the taps. Australia’s children and young people should not be left homeless.
The Federal Government must address Australia’s child and youth homelessness problem. The argument for a National Child and Youth Housing and Homelessness Plan is not new. Many governments have attempted to address homelessness only to leave children and young people as one or two recommendations in an adult-focused strategy. While there have been many child and youth wellbeing strategies nationally (National Mental Health Commission’s National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy’ for the most recent), they have not adequately addressed the issue of homelessness. The Federal Government has been largely silent on this issue.
A National Child and Youth Housing and Homelessness Plan, to Better Address the Complex Support Needs of Young People
Young people with complex support needs face a range of challenges and realities that a standalone National Child and Youth Housing and Homelessness Plan has the opportunity to address. Importantly, a national plan must not interpret homelessness as a ‘standalone issue’ or one that ends when young people are securely housed. Central to any national plan should be recognition of – and solutions to address – the broad range of co-occurring issues that drive and commonly arise as a result of homelessness.
Pathways Into Couchsurfing From Child Safety Involvement
Couchsurfing, or temporarily staying with friends, extended family, acquaintances, or strangers, is a growing form of homelessness within Australia, and particularly concentrated among youth. System involvement with child welfare and its link to youth homelessness has previously been well-established, but not within the context of couchsurfing.
Attending School While Homeless: Emerging Evidence from Young People in Brisbane
While education is known to be a critical factor in breaking cycles of homelessness for young people, new evidence from young people accessing Brisbane Youth Service paints an unexpected picture of homelessness and school attendance.
In 2020-21, 1,277 young people in Brisbane presented to Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) with 389 aged 15 to 17 years and 888 aged 18 to 24 years. Homelessness intersects with a range of other challenges in young people’s lives including exposure to violence, financial disadvantage, mental illness, substance use, overall health/wellbeing, and disengagement from education and employment. Young people experiencing homelessness find it exceedingly difficult to remain engaged in education and are at higher risk of leaving school early compared to their peers.
Young homeless people and domestic and family violence
Young people experiencing homelessness and domestic and family violence have complex needs and encounter extensive barriers when seeking support and assistance. They may not recognise or may normalise abuse, thereby compounding the issue. Unfortunately, non government and government sectors and agencies can be siloed, further complicating responses and hindering service provision.
Young Women Navigating Homelessness and Pregnancy
Women who are young, pregnant, and navigating homelessness have compounding and intersecting vulnerabilities, with both their own and their unborn child’s welfare at risk. Young women facing these challenges have increased risks associated with escalation of mental health concerns, family and relationship violence, physical health issues, poor nutrition, financial issues, and a range of other stressors including the broader elevated health issues that impact Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people. Babies impacted by parental homelessness are more likely to have pregnancy and birth issues including low birth weight, developmental challenges, thrive delays and other medical complications.
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy in Crisis: Adapting Practice in Pandemic Times
With massive increases in the number of new requests for support, overstretched resources and reducing referral options, the Brisbane Youth Service Intake Team have needed courage to tackle the seemingly never-ending impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In surviving the diverse challenges of the last two years, the team has had to work hard to remain grounded amidst the frustrations that can come with trying to respond to the often seemingly unsolvable crises impacting young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
When a Whole Lot of Young People Get a Whole Lot More Stressed: Mental Health, Young People, Homelessness and COVID-19
Mental health concerns are consistently one of the most prevalent challenges facing young people who are at risk of homelessness, or homeless, when coming to Brisbane Youth Service for assistance. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic both the numbers of young people presenting for support and the percentage of those young people who are experiencing mental health issues have increased disproportionately. The concerning increase in mental health issues in the general Australian population has been well documented, with evidence that this impact has been stronger for young people and that mental health is the third most common aspect of young peoples’ lives to be adversely affected by COVID-19
Sustaining Young Tenancies: An Innovative Program to Prevent Homelessness
How can we better sustain the tenancies of young people living in social housing?
This was the question posed by Brisbane Youth Service (BYS), and social housing providers from the Under 1 Roof consortium in 2015. Housing providers were clear that there was a gap in the service system regarding support for young tenants in social housing.
Available evidence indicates that Sustaining Young Tenancies fills an important gap in the delivery of homelessness prevention and early intervention services for young people and contributes towards breaking the cycle of homelessness.
Queer homelessness: the distinct experiences of sexuality and trans-gender diverse youth
Queer young people, or young people who are sexuality diverse and/or trans and gender diverse, face a higher lifetime likelihood of homelessness than their cis-heterosexual peers. However, queer young people are often treated as a homogenous group within research, a methodological decisions that obscures differences on the basis of gender identity.
Psychological Distress Among Young People Who Are Couchsurfing
Our study finds that young people who are couchsurfing have much higher levels of psychological distress than their peers in the general population. We suggest, based on these results and others, that homelessness services should reassess how they prioritize and serve young people who are couchsurfing.
Creating Characters as an Approach to Facilitating Learning from Lived Experience with Young People
The value of lived experience is widely acknowledged within community services, and co-design is increasingly recognised as a tool for building stronger and more effective services. Whilst there is much research into these approaches in health contexts, there is a significant gap in the literature around lived experience within homelessness services, particularly in the context of young people.
Learning from the Lived Experiences of Young Couch Surfers
Homelessness is commonly associated with images of rough sleeping. There is, however, increasing awareness that the majority of homeless young people are surviving in a less visible way, opting to couch-surf as a way to avoid sleeping rough, to escape child safety intervention or to find safer spaces than their home environments when crisis accommodation is not available or accessible.
A Couch is Not a Home
Couchsurfing is the most common, is the least visible, form of homelessness for young people in Australia. Faced with a lack of affordable, safe, or crisis housing options, couchsurfing is often assumed to be a safer option than other forms of homelessness.
Since young couch surfers are often considered ‘housed’, albeit temporarily, they commonly become viewed as a lower priority for support. Similarly, qualitative research with couchsurfers suggests that many do not seek housing support because they do not view themselves as homeless, or as ‘deserving’ as those who fit the rough sleeping stereotype of homelessness.
Youth Homelessness Support and Relationship‑Based Practice in a Time of Social Distancing
Rhianon Vichta-Ohlsen and Brisbane Youth Service Workers, Brisbane Youth Service
As Brisbane Youth Service (BYS) transitioned the majority of its youth housing and homelessness support workers to work from home arrangements due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions, service delivery was forced to adapt.
Using creativity and innovation in engaging with young people in the new landscape, workers not only developed new ways of working and focusing their engagement with the young people they support; they witnessed the resilience of young people through this crisis time.
Finding Pride: Moving Beyond the Rainbow in Youth Homelessness Services
More than half of young people who identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual report compromised or below average living conditions. For Gender Diverse young people this increases to 71 per cent. LGBTIQ+ young people are twice as likely to experience homelessness compared with their heterosexual cis gendered peers, and 33 per cent of queer youth choose not to engage with crisis support centres due to anticipated discrimination.
Safer inside? Comparing the experiences and risks faced by young people who couch-surf and sleep rough
As youth homelessness has increased globally, so too has the proportion of young people who are couch-surﬁng. The risks involved in couch-surﬁng, compared to other forms of youth homelessness, are poorly understood. Drawing upon intake records from 808 homeless youth in Brisbane, Australia, the authors examine how couch-surfers compare to rough sleepers as well as other homeless youth on the basis of (1) general demographic characteristics; (2) mental and physical health; (3) legal issues; (4) relationship support; and (5) drug use.
Digital Technology and Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing
Putting therapeutic tools for wellbeing directly into the hands of vulnerable young people, on their phones and devices, seems to make good sense. There are a great number of apps and websites which provide guidance and strategies for enhancing wellbeing, including mental health issues and other life challenges common to young people who are dealing with homelessness and other life crises. This paper shares key learning emerging from youth consultation research into how young people accessing crisis services understand wellbeing and view the potential use of online tools for both therapeutic benefit and to enhance connection to support.
How Meaningful Change Can, and Does, Happen for Homeless Young People
Innovative mental health approaches are needed to increase access to services that are timely, appropriate, youth-friendly, affordable, and support meaningful recovery. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the Recovery Orientation Model, used in an on-site counselling service for homeless young people who experience a dual diagnosis (meaning a mental health concern and a substance misuse issue). This paper suggests that youth based mental health approaches need to include clinical indicators of change as well as addressing the impact of social determinants of health.
Sustaining Young Tenancies Evaluation Report
An evaluation of the Sustaining Young Tenancies initiative, a pilot project delivered by the Brisbane Youth Service and funded by the Queensland Government. The initiative provided mobile support services to assist young people aged 16–25 who were at risk of becoming homeless to sustain their social housing tenancy.
The Recovery Orientation Model in Action
The Recovery Orientation Model in Action: How Meaningful Change Can, and Does, Happen for Homeless Young People. Innovative mental health approaches are needed to increase access to services that are timely, appropriate, youth-friendly, affordable, and support meaningful recovery.
Exploring Difference in Young People’s Experiences of Couch Surfing Versus Sleeping Rough
While young people couch surfing may experience a degree of instability or reduced comfort, the assumption is that it is considerably safer and healthier than sleeping rough. There is considerable research that supports the highly negative impacts of rough sleeping including violence, poor physical and mental health, social isolation, substance abuse and juvenile crime. When framed by this research, couch surfing seems like the preferred option, promoting less risk and less exposure to harm. But does couch surfing live up to this assumption?
Creating Digital Pathways Out of Homelessness
Improving young people’s engagement with, and pathways through, the homelessness service systems is a priority for the Queensland youth and homelessness sectors. With the ever-increasing migration of contemporary culture into the digital space, there is a growing need to better understand the potential role that online technologies such as interactive apps and websites can play in both enhancing young people’s engagement with support and promoting better wellbeing outcomes for highly vulnerable homeless young people.
The Ethical Dimension of Fundraising in the Homelessness Sector
There is ongoing debate regarding the appropriate representation of recipients in charity campaign materials that are intended to accurately define and represent social problems while also maximising fundraising success. Discomfort at the use of potentially exploitive images and narratives lay at the heart of this debate.
Creating Community: Developing a Group Work Model for Young Women with an Experience of Homelessness
In response to a lack of safe spaces for young women to both connect and access supports, Brisbane Youth Service Centre for Young Women has developed a unique group program open to women aged 12 to 25 years who have had an experience of homelessness. With the goal of creating a ‘community of intent’ this model draws from perspectives, frameworks and approaches such as community cultural development, intersectionality and trauma-informed practice.
Using Art Therapy as a Tool for Relationship Management in Supported Residential Settings for Homeless Young People
A large proportion of the work in a residential supported accommodation program, is working with young people to get them ready to live independently. The young people have spent varying amounts of time in different stages of homelessness and many have a history of trauma, abuse, neglect, mental health issues, substance use, etc. We have been applying art therapy methods at various stages of our young people’s stays with us to build and enhance relationships – between the young people living in the house as well as between our young people and our youth workers.
Intimate Partner Violence and Homelessness: Young Women Lost in the Intersectionality
The commonly used term ‘domestic violence’ defines intimate partner violence by its occurrence within a ‘home’ context, rather than situating it within interpersonal relationships, whereas the term ‘Intimate Partner Violence’ (IPV) is arguably more inclusive of violent experiences that occur outside of the domestic space.
The Benefits of Good Governance
The purpose of this article is to show a clear link between effective governance and strategic business focus with strong promotion of the core values of the organisation and its service delivery approach. If an effective balance can be created, implemented and maintained then this enables more effective and efficient service delivery in the homelessness sector.