On the run: the invisible homeless

Photo courtesy Pixabay.
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Young fugitives from domestic violence are the forgotten homeless, writes Sean Hardeman.

Laura Ioviero was catching up with her father for a milkshake on Mornington’s Main Street, but what she was not expecting was for her father to give her a box. Inside that box were photos from Laura’s wall, of fun memories, friends and pets. It was at this point Laura knew she wouldn’t be going back home.

“At first I was annoyed, because it took me a long time to put those up and I would have to put them back up, but then reality hit and I felt heartbroken, betrayed and very angry,” Laura says.

At the time Laura was 15, and was forced out of home because she was a victim of family violence.

Laura’s stepmother began verbally abusing her in 2011, just after her stepmother moved in with her father.

She was forced out of the house a week later and was able to escape the abuse with an intervention order that was finalized in September 2013.

Her father forced her out in hope of maintaining his marriage with her stepmother, ultimately turning his back on his daughter.

Unfortunately Laura’s mother had passed away when she was very young, so her father was her sole parent.

“On the night it happened, I was in shock and was very scared. I remember being in a state of panic and unable to breathe properly,” Laura says.

“At the time I didn’t realize I had been kicked out. I left home assuming I’d be back in a day or two when things calmed down.

“The day I realized I wasn’t going back was when my dad took down all the photos in my room and gave them to me.”

Laura’s situation highlights the link between domestic/family violence and youth homelessness.

The Crime Statistics Agency reported that in Victoria alone there were a total of 18,892 (13,620 or 75 per cent females and 5,272 or 25 per cent males) up to the age of 24 affected by domestic/family violence in 2015-16.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported in the Specialist Homelessness Services Report that 15 per cent of all young people who seek help with specialist services are victims of domestic/family violence.

The 2011 Census estimated that around 6,117 young people aged between 12-24 are homeless, with a further 7,976 young people living in caravan parks and overcrowded or improvised dwellings. These statistics indicate that about 40 per cent of young Australians are homelessness on any given night.

A step towards recognising this issue is shattering the preconceptions of homelessness.

Jennifer Willis is the Media Manager for Berry Street, an independent welfare organisation that focuses on supporting children, young people and their families with the complex issues that arise from experiencing domestic/family violence.

Ms Willis says, “Common images of homelessness often look like men sleeping rough, but the reality is that homelessness is a vast problem for women and children, but it’s not often as visible as rough sleeping.

“Often women and children will couch surf with friends and family, move from motel to motel or sleep in the car.

“Women and Children are often the invisible group of homeless people.”

Laura was a part of this invisible group.

She spent a year sleeping on a friend’s couch.

She says there is definitely a link between not only domestic/family violence, but all types of violence and homelessness.

Ms Willis also said there is a link between these issues.

“It has likely always been a key reason behind youth homelessness, but increased attention and reporting on family violence and youth homelessness likely means it can be better understood,“ she says.

Laura says seeking help is very important.

“You can’t do it on your own and there are so many people out there who can and want to help you in so many ways,” she says.

Laura sought help through counsellors at her school, Padua College.

Mary Cameron, the pastoral associate at Padua, was there when Laura needed her, giving invaluable support and getting her into a safe home during Laura’s second to last year of school, an important time in the education of Australia’s youth.

Mrs Cameron says, “When I first met Laura she was 13 to 14 and lived in a state of fear and anxiety.

“Her knowing that her father, who supported the stepmother’s view, did not support her was devastating, leading her to become very vulnerable.”

Laura Ioviero (second from left) with her ‘guardian angels’. From left; Sally Buick, Mary Cameron and Selena Nichols. Photo Laura Ioviero.

Mrs Cameron says domestic/family violence is the common cause behind the youth homelessness that she has dealt with.

She urges youth in a similar situation to Laura to seek help.

“I would recommend people seek help from trusted sources, such as school councillors, Kids Helpline or any other help services.”

Mrs Cameron also says more needs to be done to recognise, acknowledge and act on the link between youth homelessness and family/domestic violence.

“There is help on offer, but there will never be enough unless the link between family violence and youth homelessness is more widely acknowledged and talked about in the wider community,” Mrs Cameron says.

Laura agrees. She says journalists are neglecting the problem.

“I feel like in the media there is a lot of coverage about violence against women, but I’m yet to see something on youth experiencing domestic violence or homelessness.”

Ms Willis says simply addressing the issue at the violence stage can rectify domestic violence that leads to homelessness.

“As a community we desperately need to find ways of providing secure, affordable housing quickly for women and families fleeing violence to prevent them from becoming homeless,” she says.

“We need safe and affordable housing for those at risk of homelessness, particularly vulnerable sections of our community, like women and children.

“Australia is crying out for a national affordable house strategy, because we know that homes are what fix homelessness.”

Domestic violence and homelessness organisations such as Berry Street and the Salvation Army’s Reconnect Service are working overtime to try to get not only youth, but also women and men away from violent homes and off the streets.

But Berry Street and the Salvation Army cannot handle it all themselves.

Laura urges people to find help.

“Don’t blame yourself, seek help, because there are so many people out there who want to help you, some who you’d least expect.

“Just keep pushing through and eventually things will get better.”

Laura may not have had her father’s support, and many other kids may not have their parents either, but it is important to remember that there is always someone else.

Laura found a way to finish off her formative years in a safe place.

She is now in her first year studying a double degree in Teaching and Environmental Science at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

The situation with her father has improved but she did not move back in with her father before moving to the Sunshine Coast.

“I would have loved to have both my parents around, but then again I wouldn’t be the same person I am today, not having gone through what I have,” Laura says.

Laura says leaving home at such a young age forced her to adapt, resulting in her becoming a more resilient, independent person.

She says, “I became like this because I didn’t have parents to do things for me. Very quickly my life changed. I had to adapt.

“Young people who find themselves in a similar situation to me have to adapt as well and hope this adapting leads to better things.”