While most of us are happily enjoying the carefree days of summer, Hope Street Youth and Family Services is in its peak season, with youth homelessness spiking over Christmas and new year. We spoke with Hope Street to understand what makes the Christmas period such a difficult time for some.
American writer Marjorie Holmes once said: “At Christmas, all roads lead home.” And yet, this Christmas more than 24,000 Victorians were without a home. Of that number, 25 percent are young people aged 12 to 24 years, and according to Hope Street CEO, Donna Bennett, requests for crisis support from young people hit their peak during the holiday season.
Locally, 23 young people aged 16 to 21 years (several with children of their own) spent the festive season in Hope Street’s youth refuges and residential sites across Melbourne. An additional 50 young people received support through Hope Street’s dedicated outreach services, with the First Response Youth Mobile Outreach Service in Melton operating daily from 10am until 12 midnight to respond to young people in need of crisis accommodation and support.
So what makes the Christmas holiday season such a crucial time for youth homelessness? Firstly, Donna says that it’s the time of the year most likely for incidents of family violence (which are often spurred by increased alcohol consumption), as well as being the time of year most associated with overspending and increased financial stress, which can quickly put rental security in jeopardy.
Donna said that the period from late December through early January traditionally sees an increase in demand for youth homelessness services. “Anecdotally, we find that people are keen to be a part of the Christmas culture of happy families and they therefore try to keep relationships intact for Christmas,” she explains, “but soon after Christmas the relationships break down and the number of young people experiencing homelessness spikes as the post-Christmas realities kick in.”
Donna also emphasises the impact of the financial pressure that young families experience pre- and post-Christmas. “Children have an expectation that Father Christmas will visit, and young parents can put themselves under huge financial stress to deliver on this for their children,” Donna explains. “Many young people spend more than their budget allows to cover Christmas gifts and Christmas lunch, leaving not much left over with which to pay rent in January.”
For those spending Christmas in a refuge, it’s a particularly challenging and emotional time. “They are reminded of the fact that they are not living with family with whom they can celebrate special occasions,” says Donna.
Each year, Hope Street does what it can to ensure that Christmas is special and memorable for the young people and young families in its care. This year, thanks to the support of corporate partners Ecodynamics, Mirvac, Stramit and ourselves, Woodgrove Shopping Centre, young people accommodated at Hope Street sites helped to decorate Christmas trees and received gifts on Christmas morning.
Each of the refuges also hosted a shared Christmas lunch, complete with bonbons and Christmas pudding, while Hope Street’s outreach clients, many of whom are couch-surfing at friends or relative’s houses, received a Christmas food hamper to share with those that they are staying with.
Want to get involved, find out more or donate funds to help Hope Street continue its great work? Visit the Hope Street website for more information.