Youth Support Services

(1.54pm 6 August 2011, Parliament House, Sydney)

Today I commend the work of Oasis Youth Support Network, a Salvation Army program that helps troubled young people who are living on the street. About 32,000 young people up to 25 years of age in Australia are homeless: 22,000 of them are teenagers. In 2006 about 5,000 young people aged between 12 and 18 were homeless in New South Wales. Nearly a quarter of those living in crisis refuge are aged between 15 and 19 years. Young people can end up on the street for many reasons: family breakdown, abuse or domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, financial hardship, unemployment, eviction or being thrown out of home. Some have left prison or a juvenile detention centre and ended up on the street.

Once they are on the street it is very difficult for them to get back on their feet, especially with poor health, limited support networks, reduced self-esteem, the risk of assault and abuse, anxiety, mental illness and lack of work experience or training. Some young people move into crime, drugs and prostitution, and can easily get entrenched in a vicious cycle of institutionalisation and homelessness, blocking pathways to a better life. A network of services is working in my electorate to help remove these barriers. Kings Cross Youth at Risk catches young people before they become entrenched in street life; East Sydney Community-based High School provides flexible schooling for young people with troubled backgrounds. Oasis works with homeless young people who have complex needs and are entrenched in street life.

Oasis houses about 100 young people in Sydney every night through 24-hour crisis accommodation and supported housing, and engages with them to help them get on with their lives. Oasis provides support services, programs and activities as practical alternatives to destructive street lifestyles. These include guitar and creative workshops, as well as driving courses delivered with the City of Sydney. Companies such as Virgin, Mirvac and Woolworths employ young people through the Oasis Pathways Employment Program, and I commend their contribution. In May I hosted a lord mayoral reception for the Property Industry Foundation, which raises funds and works to support homeless young people. It runs the Rebuild a Young Life Program in partnership with the Oasis Get Ready for Work Program, and has placed 10 young people in property and construction industry jobs. The City of Sydney recently provided accommodation for the young people on the program on a five year concessional arrangement.

The award-winning Oasis documentary is an eye-opening film that shows how some of these young people ended up needing intensive help. In the film one young person tells of being repeatedly assaulted by his step-father and escaping to the street. He came into contact with Oasis, took part in a film and television training program, and developed a passion to become a cameraman. The film helps us understand that these are not just bad kids but young people needing help to get their lives back together. The Oasis documentary is now part of the high school curriculum, and school and business tours of the Surry Hills Oasis centre raise awareness. More than half of juvenile offenders in New South Wales re-offend within one year; an overwhelming majority have a mental illness or an alcohol or drug problem; and about a fifth have an intellectual disability. It costs nearly $200,000 to keep a young person in custody for a year. I believe that this is a poor use of taxpayer funds and little help to a young person in trouble. Oasis offers much better value for money and better outcomes for young people.

The 2010 Noetic Solutions Juvenile Justice Report called for the Government to redirect $349 million over six years from imprisoning children and young people into prevention, early intervention and diversion to prevent them developing a crime career. The Oasis submission to the National Youth Commission's Inquiry into Youth Homelessness, "Finding My Place", highlights the critical lack of safe, affordable housing and identified the need for alternative learning models, help getting work and help getting affordable health and dental care. It stressed the vital need for supportive environments and supportive people in young people's lives. There is growing international support for action on homelessness. Australia is a signatory to the International Homelessness Alliance, committing to prevent homelessness particularly amongst young people, and to break the link between homelessness and crime, anti-social behaviour and prison.

The later we engage with young homeless people, the more entrenched in street life they become, and the greater the personal and social costs. It is vital that we provide positive alternatives such as Oasis that help young people make their way out of street life, drug use, prostitution, crime and violence. Oasis has developed the expertise to engage with homeless young people, get them into housing and on a pathway out of trouble—all priorities under the New South Wales Homelessness Action Plan 2009-2014. I call on the Government to provide greater support for services such as Oasis that help young people with high level, complex needs to get a good start in life.