The lack of resources available to young homeless people in regional areas puts them at much greater risk of getting into trouble with the law, a regional youth services agency says.
Jenny Cook, executive manager of youth and family services at The Bridge Youth Service Shepparton, said much more support and funding was needed.
“They may be homeless because of their poverty – the allowances from Centrelink and family break down – so they move into the homeless space, and then to access things they can be led into the justice system,” she said.
Ms Cook said young people in regional areas lacked the opportunities that come with living in the city.
In a recent analysis by the Council to Homeless Persons, Shepparton was found to have the highest number of homeless people in Victorian regional electorates.
Ms Cook said early intervention programs such as The Geelong project were the key to reducing the problem and its impacts.
“The Bridge are trying to fund a similar program, to identify and support youth at risk, we just need more funding,” she said.
The Geelong Project is a program led by Barwon Child, Youth and Family that aims to reduce the risk of youth becoming homeless and entering the justice system through early intervention.
The Council to Homelessness Persons analysis found Geelong to have the second highest number of homeless people in Victorian regional electorates.
Ms Cook said substance abuse, mental health issues and lack of family support can contribute to young people becoming involved in the justice system and experiencing homelessness.
The 2016 Vulnerable young people study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 15 per cent of young people who had accessed specialist homelessness services and had undertaken youth justice supervision would report repeat homelessness.
Professor of social work at Swinburne University Jenny Martin said it was easy for homeless young people to come into the net of the justice system.
“Out on the streets you are going to be more prone to abuse, you are going to be more prone to theft, you are going to be having to find your way and manage relationships on the streets, and you will be stopped by the police to be asked, ‘who are you? Where are you going?’,” she said.