A report into Australian youth homelessness to be launched today reveals more than 41 000 people aged between 15 and 23 seek help from homeless support agencies each year, with rural and regional youth particularly vulnerable.
Charles Sturt University (CSU) Professor in Finance Adam Steen is one of three principal researchers behind The Cost of Youth Homelessness in Australia report, which argues strengthening and integrating school and community youth services could save up to an estimated $626 million per year in health and justice costs.
"These savings are quite apart from savings in the provision of homelessness support and accommodation services and the longer-term social costs of early school leaving," Professor Steen said.
The landmark report was produced by Professor Steen, Associate Professor David Mackenzie from Swinburne University, Professor Paul Flatau from the University of Western Australia and funding partners The Salvation Army, Mission Australia and Anglicare Canberra & Goulburn.
Professor Steen said the study underpinning the report was the largest data collection of its kind ever undertaken, involving annual surveys between 2011 and 2015 of more than 300 homeless youth in Australia including a significant number of Indigenous youth and those living in regional Australia.
"The data collected included 180 questions on their physical and mental health, sources of income, background, housing and quality of life," said Professor Steen.
"The report found that young homeless people have more health problems and are far more likely to get caught up in the justice system than young people in safe and secure housing and other disadvantaged such as unemployed youth. The additional health and justice service cost is just short of $15 000 per person per annum or $626 million given the current estimated population of homeless youth."
Besides service and support costs, the report also examined the significant personal cost of homelessness to the young people involved, including the cost of educational disadvantage as the majority of young homeless people leave school early.
"This impacts not only on their future well-being but on Australia's economic productivity," Professor Steen said.
Professor Steen noted that young homeless people living in rural and regional areas are particularly affected given limited employment opportunities and fewer resources available to assist them when compared with their metropolitan based counterparts.
Professor Steen said it was essential to identify young people at risk of homelessness and disengagement from community and school and to support them to stay in the family home where possible, or to find safe and stable accommodation.