Covid-19: Teens homeless for first time in level 4 as bubbles break down
Young people are experiencing homelessness for the first time in lockdown after being forced to leave their bubbles.
Teenagers who have been homeless since the first lockdown have also been coming forward for help, and support services say they’re stretched to the limit.
Neihana Gordon-Stables, a homelessness support worker for Rainbow Youth, said a high number of rainbow young people had been forced out of their homes during lockdown due to homophobia and rejection by their parents.
Often they’ve left home without ID, making it difficult to access welfare support, and might not have a phone, bank account or any means of transport.
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Over lockdown he's been working with Lifewise to house young people in a hostel that has a youth worker on-site.
It’s been “inundated with referrals” since opening, Lifewise’s youth housing team leader Aaron Hendry said.
Some of those were people who first reached out for help in the March 2020 lockdown.
“If we had the right infrastructure we wouldn’t have had young people homeless for a year,” he said.
Youth homelessness was a huge issue before alert level 4, he said, but with a number of teens becoming homeless for the first time he was concerned services won’t be able to sustain their current level of support.
Normally they would wrap support around them, connecting them to their community, building relationships, sorting food parcels. Lockdown has made all of that harder.
Their health is also at risk in the pandemic. While public health messages tell people to monitor their health, get tested and vaccinated, those things weren’t going to be a priority for a teenager who didn't know where they were sleeping at night, Bowden said.
While lockdown has exacerbated issues facing homeless rangatahi and the people who help them, it’s also opened doors.
Social worker Lauren Bartley helps house young parents and pregnant mothers through E Tipu e Rea Whānau Services and has been placing people in the hostel coordinated by Lifewise.
The speed they’ve been able to place people was “unheard of” before lockdown, she said.
There’s also been a loosening of eligibility criteria. That meant they could finally place a 17-year-old couple who had been living in precarious and unsafe housing, unsuitable to bring a baby home to.
Before lockdown, they had been unable to find them housing together because the couple had not declared their relationship before a Family Court judge, as under-18s must to have it recognised.
The service providers agreed immediate access to youth-specific emergency accommodation needed to be sustained after lockdown and supplemented with a dedicated strategy for youth homelessness.
Karen Hocking, MSD general manager for housing, said the youth-specific accommodation was funded through the same process used for other emergency housing.
“We’re in touch with our usual housing providers and working with them on potential capacity if that’s needed,” she said.