Living on the streets can leave children and young people with lifelong mental and physical scars but for a growing number it is a far safer option than staying at home, according to a new Wesley Mission study. Homelessness and the next generation shows clearly that many homeless people do not believe their homes are safe and that the experience of homelessness can leave an enduring negative impact on their lives. Domestic violence and family breakdown too often sets families adrift in a strange and unfamiliar world of emergency shelters or life on the streets. 

Each night, Wesley Mission provides accommodation and support to 600 people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. One in every five (21.62 per cent) people who seek homelessness support from Wesley Mission identifies domestic violence as the main cause of their homelessness. A further 8.1 per cent claim relationship and family breakdown as the prime cause. ‘What is disturbing but not surprising is that home is often considered less safe than the alternatives – even sleeping rough,’ the CEO of Wesley Mission the Rev Dr Keith Garner said.

‘While the causes of homelessness are often related to domestic and family violence, eviction, financial stress and loss of employment it  is other factors including crime, substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness that play their part. ‘It is a sad fact that nationally, almost one third of homeless people who receive support are homeless families – and that number is expected to grow in the coming years.’ More than 17 per cent of Australia’s homeless are now under the age of 12, 27 per cent are under the age of 18, and another 15 per cent are aged 19 to 24 years. 

Families are the most likely group to be turned away from homeless services while two out of every three children who accompany a sole parent are turned away each day. Almost all of the 22 participants in the Wesley Mission study felt that experiencing homelessness at a young age had a considerable impact on their life as an adult and any subsequent episodes of homelessness. Many participants in the study felt that exposure to the stress of homelessness as a child had resulted in difficulty forming meaningful relationships as an adult. Many spoke about a sense of deep distrust of others and their inability to interact socially. 

Several participants lost their innocence as a result of experiencing homelessness as children. Many had witnessed violence, drug taking and crime – things they should never have seen as children. Many homeless people felt their early exposure to homelessness had meant significant mental and physical problems. Some medicated with drugs and alcohol to block out the pain. It also affected their attitude to education and their ability to hold a job. Some participants said their experience of homelessness as a child had resulted in negative learned behaviour with an increased likelihood of regressing to homelessness as an adult. 

Homelessness can be initiated as a default state during times of stress. One participant said that after many years of ‘normal’ functioning, during an extremely stressful time in her life, found herself trying to find a blanket and contemplating sleeping under the bridge where she had slept as a child. The Wesley Report also found that it is vitally important that homeless families get quick and easy access to stable, social housing. Appropriate support can build resilience in children who can all too easily withdraw from relationships, disengage from learning and employment, lose trust, and learn behaviours which can cause them to relapse into homelessness later in life. 

In almost all cases those surveyed named security, safety and stability of circumstance as core requirements.  Homeless families defined security as a sense of physical safety associated with locks on doors and private rooms in accommodation centres. Safety itself was more closely related to the removal of external risks such as exposure to domestic violence as a result of relationship breakdown, or access to drugs or alcohol. In many cases, children and parents had left extremely disruptive environments, often surrounded by violence, aggression, extreme poverty or drugs and alcohol-related concerns. 

While counselling and case worker support, housing and meals were highly valued, services which ensured safe, security and the ability to ‘stop and pause’ laid the platform for more vital benefits to be realised. ‘Without meeting these needs, it was very difficult for a service to address any of the deeper, long-term social and emotional wellbeing issues,’ Dr Garner said. Wesley Mission staff have seen a seismic shift in the face of homelessness – from an experience largely defined by single, older men to one where women, families and children are pronounced. 

‘If we are to adequately address the major issues, it is the experiences and concerns of families and children that need to inform service delivery and policy reform,’ Dr Garner said. ‘It is important that both government and non-government hear the voice of the marginalised.’ The Wesley Report recommends that both government and non-government provide more family focused, integrated and flexible services that address the unique strengths and vulnerabilities of families. ‘Multiple vulnerabilities and the breakdown of parent/child relationships need multi-disciplined solutions,” Dr Garner said. 

Shared information platforms are vital. Homeless people grow weary and distrustful of agencies who continually ask them to retell their stories to qualify for support. While the Commonwealth Government allocated $5.6 billion to build 20,000 new social housing units, an initiative such as this needs to reflect the growing number of families who require three or four bedroom dwellings. Currently there are simply not enough services to cater for larger families. In NSW almost 97% of new dwellings that were earmarked for construction under the National Building program in 2010 were one and two bedroom (4409) while only 3% were either three or four bedroom (142).

Source: Wesley Mission Press Release



Foxtel has apologised and removed a Kings Cross billboard depicting bestiality that was “clearly in appalling taste”. The billboard advertising the Foxtel arts channel Studio had been placed on William Street in Kings Cross and depicted a man simulating sex with a pig. A Foxtel spokesman said that the billboard ‘‘was intended to provoke, but was clearly in appalling taste and demonstrated a lapse of judgment and a failure in the approvals process at Foxtel”. ‘‘Once senior management at Foxtel became aware of the nature of the image we instructed Studio to remove and replace the billboard,” a statement said. ‘‘Foxtel regrets any offence that has been caused.’’ 

Chris Keely, general manager of the of the Studio channel, told Fairfax Media: ‘‘While art can sometimes be divisive or provocative, we certainly did not intend to upset anyone with this campaign. “We apologise for any offence that was caused by the billboard. “We have immediately replaced it.” The image was taken from an episode of the British television mini-series Black Mirror, by Charlie Brooker. In the episode, a princess is kidnapped and her captor demands that the British prime minister have sex with a pig on live national television before she is released.

The show is screening on the Foxtel channel Studio as part of its “Festival of WTF”.  Earlier, Wendy Francis of the Australian Christian Lobby, said the prominent billboard was distressing and inappropriate, especially for children. “I’m in my 50s. I’m big enough and ugly enough, but that’s really distressing. My stomach actually turned,” she said of the billboard. “The damage is already done. It’s already up now, it’s got media attention. This is exactly what these advertisers want. They know this is damaging children. They know that this is not normal behaviour. They know that it will create attention.

“They are not thinking of our society, of children being confronted by adult concepts. And these are adult concepts that are not even normal.”  Ms Francis said the billboard was a prime example that self-regulation within the advertising industry was not working. She predicted it would be quickly removed “but not before they get the media attention they were after”.  “They would have every intention of offending and knowingly breaking rules, but they do it anyway, and there’s no penalty for their misdemeanour,” she said. In 2011, Ms Francis lobbied to have safe sex advertisements removed from bus shelters but they were reinstated after a public outcry. 

Tim Allerton, managing director of Sydney-based City Public Relations, said the shock tactics used in the billboard were a desperate bid for attention. He said David Ogilvy, the British advertising executive hailed as the “father of advertising”, and other advertising greats would be “rolling in their graves at such a paucity of imagination and creativity in advertising”.  “It appears that campaigns like this show the agency has run out of ideas and is just looking for shock and PR value from a shocking image,” he said.  “Agencies are heading down a slippery slope as they go for more shocking images in desperate attempts to get our attention.”




The alcohol industry has much to answer for on youth crime, according to Paul McDonald chief executive of Anglicare “We are hard on young people, but much less assertive towards the alcohol industry” he told a forum about the causes of youth crime. “They say ‘we are not interested in getting under-age drinkers’, but they are after 18 to 24-year-olds, and that’s where most of the accidents and crimes happen.” he said: Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said the common call to be “tough on crime” was a simple slogan that was appealing at election time, but did not engage at all with how young lives were shaped. 

He applauded Victoria’s juvenile justice system, which he said worked hard to keep young people out of detention, and recognised that they were capable of developing beyond impulsive or difficult behaviour. Victorian Children’s Court president Paul Grant said that despite media stories suggesting that young people were behaving badly, in fact they were no worse than any other generation. There were 550,000 people aged 10 to 17 in Victoria in 2010, of whom 14,500 were “processed” by police, 7000 had charges proved against them, 1550 were under supervision, and only 172 received sentences of detention, Judge Grant said.  

He said Victoria had by far the lowest number of youths in detention in Australia, and the second-lowest offending rate. NSW had four times the number in detention, and a higher crime rate. Judge Grant said more than 55 per cent of those in youth detention were victims of abuse, trauma or neglect, 51 per cent had received child protection services, 34 per cent had mental health issues, and 14 per cent were registered with Disability Services. Drugs and alcohol were a factor for 88 per cent. “We need to spend money at the front-end before children get into trouble and become families in crisis. We need investment in prevention and early intervention.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports