The National Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network
The NMYAN is a national policy and advocacy body with representatives from each of Australia's states and territories.
It was established in 2005 in response to an identified need for a national advisory and advocacy network for multicultural youth issues. The issues and needs of multicultural young people are often overlooked as they are a sub-group of both the broader youth and multicultural sectors and underrepresented in the policy and advocacy work of both government and non-government sectors. A key objective of NMYAN is to increase collaboration and coordination between states and territories in order to highlight the rights and interests of multicultural young people living in Australia.
The NMYAN has identified housing and homelessness as a priority issue for multicultural young people, in particular those from refugee and newly arrived backgrounds.
About this Submission
The NMYAN welcomes the opportunity to respond to the discussion paper on a National quality framework to support quality services for people experiencing homelessness. The NMYAN also welcomes the development of a NQF as an overarching framework that might ensure that people experiencing homelessness are more likely to responded to appropriately and effectively within the current service system.
While this submission does not specifically respond to questions listed in the NQF Discussion Paper it provides (i) an overview of multicultural young people's experiences of homelessness, (ii) the barriers this group of young people face in accessing the housing and homelessness system and, (iii) key recommendations for a NQF that reflects the particular issues and needs of refugee and migrant young people.
The key message of this submission is that the value of a NQF is in its capacity to improve the outcomes for refugee and migrant young people, a population group particularly vulnerable to homelessness. For a NQF to be meaningful, it needs to consider and respond to the existing issues and barriers that this group of young people face in accessing the homelessness system.
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1. Homelessness among young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds
Access to safe, secure and affordable housing is central to social inclusion and to a young person's ability to settle successfully in Australia. However, young people from a refugee or migrant background are at particular risk of homelessness because they often face unique challenges in their living situations and additional barriers to accessing appropriate housing.
The refugee experience is one of homelessness and displacement and refugee young people have, by definition, already experienced profound homelessness on arrival in Australia.1 Social exclusion, including economic hardship, combined with the variables of the refugee experience, place refugees at extreme risk of remaining in a cycle of chronic homelessness. For young refugees this situation can be further accentuated by new family configurations, disrupted schooling, issues of identity and adolescent development. 2
Factors that contribute to homelessness among young people from refugee backgrounds include:
- The refugee experience separates families and significantly impacts on family functioning. Young people commonly arrive in Australia in family arrangements (with aunts, uncles, cousins etc) where they have not previously lived together, where they were separated for many years, or where there has not previously been opportunity for strong bonds to develop. Reconfigured family groups often require additional support to manage pressures placed on them due to settlement, which can lead to family breakdown and homelessness;
- Some refugee minors or young people who have been sponsored through the orphaned relative migration category may not have had contact with the relative or carer they come to live with for many years - or in some cases may never have had any prior contact or relationship with them. As such it may be difficult for a strong relationship to develop and family conflict or breakdown may ensue, leading to homelessness;
- Some refugee minors arrive with no adults to support them to settle into Australia. They require the support of DIAC, settlement services and other agencies to obtain housing and other necessary services. There is currently a lack of housing available for many of these young people, some of whom remain in motel or other unsuitable transitional accommodation for extended periods;
- Settlement issues, including dealing with: experience of torture/trauma, mourning the loss of family members, cultural isolation, loneliness, lack of language and social networks;
- Young people from refugee backgrounds may enter housing arrangements that are already strained by overcrowding;3
- Young people may experience a conflict of values with the adults with whom they come to live, particularly because of the differing rates of acculturation between young people and adults, and
- Young people who arrive in Australia as migrants also face the challenges of settling into a new country at a significant developmental stage. Like young people from refugee backgrounds, many young migrants may also have had no choice regarding coming to Australia, and have had to leave behind important relationships and a sense of belonging to their community or country of origin. They may also be expected to assist other family members to negotiate a new language, culture and systems, which may increase family tensions.
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2. Data collection and the prevalence of homelessness among young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds
Accurate information on homelessness affecting young people from a refugee or migrant background is lacking. The most widely used figure, aggregating data from a range of sources, is that young refugees are six to ten times more likely than other groups of young people to be at risk of homelessness.4
Research suggests that refugee and migrant young people under-utilise mainstream services like SAAP and as such, SAAP data is likely to underestimate the extent of homelessness among this cohort.5
Under-representation of this cohort is further exacerbated by cultural interpretations of the concept of homelessness. Beer and Foley reported relatively low rates of self-identified experiences of homelessness amongst refugees involved in their research, even although approximately 30% of respondents had been homeless at one point, having been forced to live with family or friends or use temporary accommodation.6
Young people from refugee or migrant backgrounds will not often define their living situations as homeless or rough sleeping. They often identify a residential address of a parent, guardian or other relative as their own, largely to ensure benefit continuity through Centrelink. For many young people from refugee or migrant backgrounds, homelessness usually manifests as living in unsustainable overcrowded homes or as 'couch-surfing' between the homes of friends and families.
Current homelessness frameworks that inform policy and practice use particular definitions and frameworks that have been developed from research into homelessness for young people whose families have been in Australia for some generations - these frameworks are not necessarily applicable to young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds and impact directly on service delivery.
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3. Barriers to accessing appropriate housing for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds
In addition to the factors that can precipitate homelessness for refugee and migrant young people, this group of young people also experience a number of barriers to securing appropriate, affordable and long-term housing (and housing support where necessary). For example:
- Limited English language skills and unfamiliarity with Australian systems, resulting in an inability to understand and navigate the housing and homelessness services system - e.g. advocating for their housing needs, lease agreements, tenancy rights and responsibilities etc;
- Limited resources within the housing sector and a lack of culturally appropriate support, at both individual and organisational levels, to assist young people from refugee or migrant backgrounds to negotiate the housing system;
- Implications of current homelessness policy and practice frameworks (that shape funding guidelines) for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, e.g. limitations of the term homelessness for accurate data collection and the definition of homelessness in relation to early intervention and prevention support programs;
- Discrimination related to age and ethnicity in the private rental market, as well as difficulties relating to financial and employment status and lack of rental history and references;
- Young people's lack of financial resources (sometimes as a result of migration visa types) to cover bonds, furniture and other household items, high rents and rent increases;
- General shortage of public housing and low-cost private rental housing;
- Available housing may not meet the needs of the family - e.g. many young people from refugee or migrant backgrounds enter the homelessness system because they are living in overcrowded accommodation (e.g. 2 bedroom homes for a family of 9, or 3 bedroom homes accommodating 16 people). Overcrowded housing often leads to family conflict as young people negotiate independence and access to appropriate places to study;
- Lack of affordable and appropriate housing may force families to move to the outer suburbs, where they are further away from their community and services are not readily available; this is a particular problem for young people who need to be linked into appropriate education and or training sites, and are typically without private transport;
- Given the strong family-centred culture of many refugee-source countries, a reluctance to leave the family home to utilise welfare services even when it is a destructive environment for the young person;
- Many newly arrived families have little understanding of the homelessness assistance system; there is often no equivalent of the welfare support system attached to housing in their countries of origin;
- Crisis accommodation options are often not culturally appropriate - e.g. lack of halal food, no prayer room, mixed sex dorms; and
- Lack of targeted support for pregnant young women from refugee or migrant backgrounds.
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4. Recommendations for a NQF
The NMYAN submits the following recommendations for the development of a NQF that enhances outcomes for refugee and migrant young people in the homelessness service system:
- That implementation or application of the framework is clearly articulated, that is:
- That a NQF goes beyond broad statements about services responding to 'cultural diversity' and being 'culturally sensitive', and provides references to or explicit statements about practice frameworks and approaches (strategies) that reflect good practice with refugee and migrant young people experiencing homelessness - e.g. assessment tools to identify homelessness among this population group, (supported) referral processes to facilitate access to the homelessness service system, collaboration with specialist services and service delivery approaches for homelessness services.
- That funding is attached to a NQF to support implementation/application of the framework and that this responds to the complex needs of refugee and migrant young people experiencing homelessness. Implementation may include an accreditation process, and/or 'compliance' or implementation of standards (e.g. funding for interpreting and translating services and professional development to develop cultural competency for supporting refugee and migrant young people who are experiencing homelessness).
- That a NQF has provision for addressing the particular barriers that refugee and migrant young people experience in accessing the homelessness service system - including promoting more flexible and responsive services, developing cultural competency and extending housing and support periods.
- That, if an accreditation process is attached to a NQF, it responds to the needs of those population groups who are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and face particular barriers to accessing the homelessness service system.
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Beer, A. and Foley, P. (2003) Housing need and provision for recently arrived refugees in Australia (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute: Adelaide).
Coventry, L., Guerra, C., Mackenzie, D. and Pinkney, S. (2002) Wealth of All Nations: Identification of strategies to assist refugee young people in transition to independence (Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies: Tasmania).
Francis, S. and Cornfoot, S. (2007) Multicultural Youth in Australia: Settlement and Transition (Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues: Melbourne, for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth).
Francis, S. and Cornfoot, S. (2007) Working with Multicultural Youth: Programs, Strategies and Future Directions, (Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues: Melbourne, for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth).
O'Sullivan, K. and Oliff, L. (2006) Settling In: Exploring Good Settlement for Refugee Young People in Australia (Centre for Multicultural Youth).
Ransley, C. and Drummond, S. (2001) Homeless Twice: Exploring resettlement and homelessness for migrant and refugee young people (Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues: Melbourne).
Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (2002) Strategy for Refugee Young People (Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs: Canberra).
- Ransley, C. and Drummond, S. (2001) Homeless Twice: Exploring resettlement and homelessness for migrant and refugee young people (Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues: Melbourne), 12.
- In 2008 - 09, 25% of all refugee families settling in Victoria had five or more members, compared with only 1% of families arriving under the family and skilled migration streams (data accessed from DIAC's online Settlement Reporting Facility (www.immi.gov.au, accessed 26 November 2009).
- Coventry et al. (2002), 50.
- Francis, S. and Cornfoot, S. (2007) Multicultural Youth in Australia: Settlement and Transition (Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues: Melbourne, for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth), 20.
- Beer, A. and Foley, P. (2003) Housing need and provision for recently arrived refugees in Australia (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute: Adeladie), 21-3.