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Every night Tasmanian children are forced to face the cold, harsh night alone because they do not have a roof over their heads.

The reality of youth homelessness is changing – the problem is getting more complex, more desperate and more widespread.

Between the 2006 and 2021 censuses, child and youth homelessness in Tasmania increased by 42.6 per cent, by far the biggest increase in the country.

The same census revealed more than 1400 young Tasmanians aged 10-24 presented to specialist homelessness services without a carer or guardian.

Of even greater concern, 372 children under 10 sought help.

We know from experience that those numbers are likely to have increased dramatically in the years since.

Recently, we have seen an unprecedented influx of children as young as 12 seeking shelter at our facilities.

Among them was a child who attended a prestigious private school by day, but had nowhere to sleep at night, highlighting the stark reality that this societal scourge does not discriminate.

The problem of youth homelessness has long been placed in the too-hard policy basket, with excuses that it is too entrenched, too complex and only affects a fringe of society.

But insecure housing and homelessness sits at the heart of so many issues including educational attainment, youth unemployment, youth justice and mental health.

We are treating the individual symptoms of a problem, but not the root cause.

Without secure housing and adequate support, young people experiencing homelessness struggle to stay connected to education or work, look after their health, and maintain social and community connections.

The current support system for supporting young people experiencing homelessness is fundamentally broken.

Frontline homelessness services like ours are designed and funded to provide temporary crisis support, but they have become a revolving door because long-term housing options for young people simply do not exist.

The current business model for social housing means many mainstream providers struggle to house young people because they have low and insecure incomes and often need wraparound support. Private rentals are unaffordable for people on youth wages or Youth Allowance.

There needs to be an acknowledgment that the causes, experiences and solutions are different for children and young people than they are for adults. This is as much a “care crisis” as it is a “housing crisis”. Children and young people need wraparound support because they do not have the same level of development, coping strategies, or resources as adults. That makes them more vulnerable and their experiences more dangerous.

Youth Homelessness Matters Day, held earlier in April, is the annual national day to raise awareness, break stereotypes and advocate for greater support for young people experiencing homelessness.

This year we used this day to acknowledge that this shameful problem is not hopeless – it can be fixed.

Tasmania urgently needs a stand-alone youth homelessness strategy and dedicated youth housing models to complement investments in social housing.

If we don’t act now and intervene early to stop young people ricocheting from one homelessness program to the next, we will create more homeless adults in the future.

With the right strategy and support models, we can change the stories of these young lives and turn fear and trauma into hope and opportunity.

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