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How housing affects a child’s development

Often childhood homes are associated with warmth, memories of fondness and a loving and safe space. But this isn’t always the case as a lot of people, including youth, become homeless, grow up in tumultuous environments with unstable homes, or don’t live in adequate housing. Not having access to a safe, stable and adequate home affects the development and general health of a person, which further impacts on the development of children who grow up in unstable environments.
Housing is linked to more than just stability and is often an indicator of social inequality.
A 2020 report by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) states reasons for youth homelessness may include drug issues, mental health issues, gender and LGBTI issues and family situations which are difficult, which can include financial reasons, mental health reasons, parental drug abuse or domestic violence.[5]
Around 19, 400 children aged 0-14 were homeless. 
The 2016 Census statistics on youth aged 12-18:

  • 61% lived in severely crowded dwellings
  • 26% lived in supported accommodation for the homeless

2016 Census statistics on youth aged 12-24:

  • 59% lived in severely crowded dwellings
  • 32% made up the total homeless persons living in severely crowded dwellings
  • 23% lived in supported accommodation for the homeless, and
  • 16% were staying temporarily in other households[1]

Specialist Homeless Services (SHS) is a program funded by the Department of Communities and Justice that supports those who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness in NSW. These programs are delivered by non-government organisations, which vary in number and location across the state[2]
The total number of youth aged 0-24 years of age who accessed SHS services as of December 2020 were 39, 296.[2] Youth aged 0-24 made up a total of 44.5% of the total of SHS clients.
The number of youths who are homeless is expected to be under-reported as those who are homeless may report temporary housing accommodation as a ‘couch surfer’ as a permanent address. Couch surfers are people who are not experiencing being ‘roofless’ but do not have a stable home; often staying at friends and families, or moving between temporary homes.[3] 29% of youth who accessed SHS services alone were couch surfing.[4]
Couch surfing and the experience of insecure and unstable housing, is the most common way young people experience homelessness, which leads to greater risks of homelessness.[5]
Their report found that a third of clients who experienced family and domestic violence were under the age of 18.[3]
It is found that those who experience mental health illnesses are more likely to be at risk of being homeless.
In a 2018 report conducted by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), it was found that a secure and stable home allows people experiencing mental health issues to focus on getting treatment and rehabilitation.[6]
Living without a stable home is a major stress factor. Experiencing homelessness or being at risk of homelessness often worsens mental health issues, by adding to, and heightening stressors that add to anxiety and depression. This added stress can further lead to abusing drugs and substances in order to cope.[7]
The link to homelessness and mental health is a concerning factor, as it is estimated that 35% of youth experiencing mental health issues have contributed to the reasons as to why they are homeless[8].
In a research and consultation conducted on young people by the Department of Health it was found that young homeless people articulated it was hard to distinguish everyday struggles from their mental health struggles.
Mental issues also include trauma, which is one of the leading reasons of young people experiencing homelessness.[9] with an estimated 30% who have experienced sexual abuse.
Often mental health and physical health go hand in hand, as poor mental health inhibits one’s ability to take care of oneself. Homeless youth experiencing mental health issues reported that they are unable to meet their everyday needs, which include housing, finances and general health, and often relied on workers at youth drop-in centres. [9]
There is a link between financial well-being and overall health. Financial instability causes stress, which in turn affects both mental and physical health. All of this can build up and lead to chronic stress, which releases hormones that can affect sleep, immune and digestive systems.[10]
A 2015 report conducted by the Victorian State Government between social inequalities and health. The report states that those on lower incomes are less likely to make healthier food choices. It was also linked that those who have access to quality education were more health literate, were more likely to eat a healthy and balanced diet and have better overall nutritional health.
Those who are homeless are more likely to experience food instability due to their already deprived state that affects all other aspects of their lives. People with lower incomes are more likely to have lower accessibility to education, medical care and mental health care.[11]
Homeless youth and peoples are more likely to abuse substances. Research estimates that around 39% to 70% of homeless youth abuse drugs or alcohol[12] which further exacerbates the links in mental and physical health, and the need to intervene early to provide stable housing, that helps in preventing these links from occurring, and getting worse.
Homelessness creates a barrier for youth and young people to continue and stay in education. Homeless youth often leave their family households to escape futile and violent family homes or are homeless due to a range of other factors. This futility and instability often create an environment where a child is unable to stay in education, or lives in a home where that is unsuitable to their needs; which detriments their ability to focus and have access to resources for further education.
The 2016 Census reported that an estimated 18, 900 children aged 0-14 lived in over-crowded housing[13]. Those of low-socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to live in overcrowded housing than those in high socio-economic areas.
Living in an over-crowded, and unsuitable household increases the likelihood of disrupted sleep, noise levels and lack of sleep. These factors increases the risk of developing behavioural and emotional problems, that disrupts a child’s development and education, which can exacerbate anxiety, stress and other mental and physical health issues.[14]
The effects of overcrowding also contribute to worse physical health, with rates of asthma being higher in overcrowded dwellings, as well as lack of privacy.  
Children who are homeless are more likely to feel disconnected socially from their peers, and often aren’t able to participate in extra-curricular activities or afford basic necessities to fit into a schooling environment, which can lead to bullying and social inclusion, contributing to their desire and ability to stay in school[15]
Homeownership is linked to success, stability and financial security. Being homeless means your fundamental needs, and access to resources are limited, and therefore affect your overall economic output and earning potential. More than 116,000 people were reported to be homeless in the 2016 Census.
As mental health is a contributing factor to homelessness, it is important to note that those who experience ill-mental health are more likely to be unemployed or have unstable employment opportunities.
A 2015 study conducted by Roy Morgan research found that mental health issues among young people rose as unemployment did. The link between mental health and unemployment creates a vicious cycle that increases the likelihood of experiencing homelessness and acting upon these factors can greatly improve the overall quality of life and development of youth and people in general.
Youth who are homeless or at risk of being homeless are more likely to  experience homelessness later in life
Habitat for Humanity Australia believes in the importance of providing secure, safe and stable housing. This is done by working with low-income families who are at risk of homelessness or live in inadequate housing by renovating and maintaining homes.
In a report conducted by AHURI, it was found that half of youth accessing specialist homeless services stated that their parents were homeless at some point of their lives. By helping families at risk, Habitat for Humanity Australia aims to reduce intergenerational homelessness and the long-term effects experiencing homelessness leads to.
Habitat for Humanity Australia also directly deals with teenagers who are at risk, through a partner project to build studio apartments for teenagers experiencing homelessness to break that cycle.
In Australia Habitat for Humanity works with other organisations to renovate women’s crisis accommodation, transitional shelter, homeless shelters, and builds homes and shelters in selected states. In South Australia Habitat is building accommodation for homeless youth called Studio Purpose, Murray Bridge. 
This project is aimed at addressing a shortage of safe accommodation for young people in the Murray Bridge area, but is about much more than a warm bed and welcoming space, with a focus on health and wellbeing, education, development, connection and engagement. We want to assist in reducing youth homelessness in the region and ensure suitable accommodation is available to avoid vulnerable youths facing additional risks associated with couch surfing or sleeping rough.
Our global mission is to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope, so we are therefore partnering with regional agency, AnglicareSA, South Australian Housing Authority, Rural City of Murray Bridge and Headspace Murray Bridge to deliver accommodation and support for young people aged 15-21 at risk of homelessness in Murray Bridge, but we need your support to make the vision a reality.
To support this project today please give now here: