Modern Australian

'We all slept in the car, five of us'. Young refugees talk about being homeless in Australia

  • Written by Jen Couch, Senior Lecturer – Youth Work and International Development, Australian Catholic University
'We all slept in the car, five of us'. Young refugees talk about being homeless in Australia

One of the biggest challenges young people of refugee background face in their new country is finding safe, affordable and appropriate housing. Yet this is central to social inclusion and to a young person’s ability to settle successfully in Australia.

In the first longitudinal study of the lives of young homeless refugees I looked at 25 such people in Melbourne. They shared with me their experiences of being homeless and their pathway out of it over a five-year period. For a majority of them, their homelessness ended through a connection made by a member of their own cultural community.

Young refugees are at high risk of homelessness – “at least six to 10 times higher” than for Australian-born young people, a 2002 study estimated. (This is the most recent available study on this.)

Read more: Youth homelessness efforts get a lowly 2 stars from national report card

Insecure housing is, in turn, one of the most significant predictors of mental health problems among refugees.

The beginnings of homelessness

Family breakdown is a well-documented pathway into homelessness for all young people.

Read more: Family break-up raises homelessness risk, and critical period is longer for boys

But for young refugees there are specific circumstances that complicate family relationships and cause tension.

Participants talked about living in severely overcrowded housing, moving constantly and often being expected to help other family members negotiate a new language, culture and systems. This required them to step up into “adult” roles.

Congolese male, age 17, homeless 18 months, said:

It was very very hard. You think before you come that the moving is over. But then in the first two years we moved six times.

At one point we all slept in the car, five of us. I just kept moving schools and I had no friends. I had no lunch at school because we had no kitchen.

South Sudanese male, 18, homeless two years, said:

Eventually we got a house, but after a while my dad started going crazy. And then he got fired from his job. There was no food in the house and once again, we were hungry.

I quit school. I got a job and started trying to take care of my brothers. And it didn’t work. We lost the house and started moving.

Little knowledge of available help

Once young people left home, their options were limited. Most did not know about homelessness services. Many did not even identify as being homeless – they saw homeless people as old, male and rough sleepers.

Read more: What’s in the name 'homeless'? How people see themselves and the labels we apply matter

Very few tried to access youth refuges and shelters. Those who did said they were afraid and did not feel comfortable.

Private rental was unattainable for nearly all, due to cost, discrimination and a lack of rental history. Consequently, all young people found couch surfing was their only housing option.

Afghani male, 17, homeless two years, said:

After I left, I slept in all kinds of places. My school expelled me for not attending and didn’t even look to see that I was sleeping all over Melbourne.

And after that, now, I just move around and around. No school. No Work. No family. No home.

Young women reported a fear of sleeping rough. This led to several staying in inappropriate and exploitative environments because no suitable housing options were available to them.

They described unromantic and unwanted relationships, often with men older than them, that they entered into because of a lack of free choice and as a last resort.

South Sudanese female, 18, homeless three years, said:

With him at least I had somewhere to sleep. I was alone here, because I hadn’t been in Australia long and I had no idea where I could go. Where was I to go? I had no home.

Read more: 'Just a piece of meat': how homeless women have little choice but to use sex for survival

Ways out of homelessness

By the time the study ended in 2017, 23 of the 25 people had found a way out of homelessness. But one young person had taken their own life. Another was in jail.

For nearly two-thirds of the young people in this study, the transition out of homeless occurred through a connection made by a member of their own cultural community.

Liberian female, 20, homeless 18 months, said:

I met a Liberian lady on the train. She said, ‘Call me if you need anything.’ The first thing I said was, ‘I don’t know you and I hope one day I can give you something back, but right now I need some money for food.’

She came that day with three bags of food. She helped me so much and without her I would still have nowhere to live.

All young people who were helped in this way said one of the things they valued most was that they did not need to demonstrate and point out their resilience; it was just taken for granted.

Ethnic community members were far more likely to adopt a family-focused approach and try to reconnect the young people with their families.

This highlights the importance of these communities in supporting newly arrived people. With good knowledge of, and linkages to, other networks, they can help other community members get access to available supports and services and so play an effective role in supporting positive settlement.

Far from just providing housing, community support can increase young people’s agency, belonging, social connection and participation.

Authors: Jen Couch, Senior Lecturer – Youth Work and International Development, Australian Catholic University

Read more http://theconversation.com/we-all-slept-in-the-car-five-of-us-young-refugees-talk-about-being-homeless-in-australia-121559

NEWS

Albanese promises a 'productivity project' in an economic vision statement harking back to Hawke and Keating

Anthony Albanese puts a “productivity project” at the centre of his economic agenda in the second of his “vision statements”, which seeks to further distance him from the Shorten era.“Productivity...

Friday essay: George Eliot 200 years on

A portrait of George Eliot at 30 by Alexandre-Louis-François d'Albert-Durade. Her masterpiece Middlemarch is often claimed to be the greatest novel in the English language.Wikimedia CommonsMary Ann Evans took...

Vital Signs. Untaxing childcare is a bold idea that seems unfair, but might benefit us all

Win-win? No-one would be worse off under the UNSW proposal. Over time it should pay for itselfShutterstockAustralia’s system of childcare support is pretty good. It ensures high-quality care is provided...

Five ways parents can help their kids take risks – and why it’s good for them

Have real conversations with your kids about what they're doing, and the potential consequences of their actions.from shutterstock.comMany parents and educators agree children need to take risks. In one US...

a short, shaky history of curing with vibrations

Vibration devices have been used to treat everything from 'hysteria' to hair loss. So Marie Kondo's tuning forks and crystals are nothing new.from www.shutterstock.comYou might remember how Gwyneth Paltrow’s health...

These young Muslim Australians want to meet Islamophobes and change their minds. And it's working

While most research participants believe in the power of contact, dialogue and exchange to transform negative attitudes. ShutterstockThe political influence of the far-right, along with a more salient national security...

Smoke haze hurts financial markets as well as the environment

Sydney is currently blanketed by smoke haze from severe bushfires that have burned through New South Wales. Air pollution levels on Thursday reached hazardous levels for the second time in...

How 1 bright light in a bleak social housing policy landscape could shine more brightly

In the year since the Australian government created the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), its bond aggregator, AHBA, has raised funds for affordable housing providers, allowing them...

why does wood crackle in a fire?

If you've ever put wet wood on to a fire, you may have noticed it makes a lot more noise than dry wood. ShutterstockWhy does wood crackle in a fire? –...

Scott Morrison will go into 2020 with a challenging cluster of policy loose ends

Scott Morrison’s government is heading to the end of 2019 amid a debate about its economic judgement and with a number of substantial policy moves started but not completed.Morrison this...

New report shows the world is awash with fossil fuels. It's time to cut off supply

Australia's coal production is expected to jump by 34% to 2030, undercutting our climate efforts.Nikki Short/AAPA new United Nations report shows the world’s major fossil fuel producing countries, including Australia...

Enough ambition (and hydrogen) could get Australia to 200% renewable energy

Hydrogen infrastructure in the right places is key to a cleaner, cheaper energy future.ARENAThe possibilities presented by hydrogen are the subject of excited discussion across the world – and across...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

4 Tips to Prepare for a Home Meditation RetreatWhy You Should Hit the Gym This SpringSaving History One VHS Tape At A Time4 Vaccines Your Teens Should Be GettingStrength Training Tips To Make Your Workout EffectiveTop Fashion Secrets To Look Stylish No Matter The Occasion  How to save money on major home repairsCan I Do Something About My Sensitive Teeth?Climbing Out of a Creative Rut – Strategies for Photographers5 Digital Free Holidays: Take a trek and get back to nature8 Things You’ll Need for a Positive Breast Surgery RecoveryThe Best Sites and Events to See in Melbourne Everything You Wanted To Know About Air CompressorsWhat to Consider When Buying a Home With KidsPlaces to visit on your first trip to North America