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The Sunday Times

Out in the cold

The Sunday Times, Australia, by Catherine Madden, July 11, 2004

SIX-THOUSAND children are homeless in WA (Western Australia) – and nearly half of them are under 12.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that a further 800 WA children aged 12 to 18 are homeless and without parents or guardians.

Another report, yet to be released by the State Government, supports the findings, saying that 39 per cent of homeless people in WA are now under 18.

The report compiled by Professor Chris Chamberlain and David MacKenzie of Melbourne's RMIT University reveals that the WA Government is managing to house only 20 per cent of homeless young families.

The statistics were met with resignation by the state's housing agencies and charities this week.

Salvation Army spokesman Neil Venables said: "The figures almost exactly match our own experience.

"Homelessness is no longer about the stereotypical hobo without a home.

"Young people, particularly families with small children, are living rough."

He said the Salvation Army, which provided a telephone helpline as well as limited crisis accommodation, found it difficult to cope with demand.

"What's immoral is that there is an acceptable turn-away rate of 80 per cent.

"Nobody should be turned away but what else can we do?"

Don Tunnicliffe, executive officer of Swan Emergency Accommodation, one of the few places for homeless families, said: "We turn away between three and five families a day. They may be people who've slept in a car for a couple of weeks and have been referred by the Department for Community Development.

One of the growing problems we see are single fathers. There are women's refuges but where do fathers with children go? It's a hidden but significant problem."

Young people considered homeless are those without a permanent address who live between refuges, welfare shelters, crisis accommodation or on the streets.

Karel Eringa, executive officer of Shelter WA said: "The causes of homeless are numerous and complex – poverty, family breakdown, mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse.

"For instance, if you are 13 and your dad beats you up, you may have no option but to leave.

"The youth allowance from Centrelink is less than $300 a fortnight and the cheapest room in Perth costs about $50 a night.

"Private real estate won't help you. Homeswest won't house you until you turn 18 and rent assistance only kicks in after you have paid a certain amount of rent."

The problem was exacerbated by a chronic shortage of houses.

"Homeswest has a stock of just under 39,000 houses, which has remain unchanged since 1995," Mr Eringa said.

"In 1997 Homeswest houses represented 5.5 per cent of housing stock. In June last year it represented 4.9 per cent of stock."

Many young people are locked in a cycle of poverty.

Thrown out or fleeing an abusive domestic situation, they have no money but can't apply to Centrelink for help without an address.

Anne Russell-Brown, state manager of Mission Australia, said: "We have crisis accommodation in Vic Park, a six-bed hostel which is always full. We turn 80 per cent of people away.

Rod Mapstone, of Passages, a Northbridge referral and drop-in centre for homeless young people, said children as young as 12 had come for help.

"It can be a struggle to find beds. It's not unusual for us to shut the door at 4pm and there are young people who have nowhere to go," he said.

Community Development Minister Sheila McHale said $11.5 million would be spent in the next financial year on building Read More .. Homeswest properties and that 18 country women's refuges had been funded specifically to work with children.

The AIHW attributed WA's higher-than-average figures to the state's higher proportion of indigenous Australians.

The Sunday Times