Homelessness continues to rise in Australia, with over 42,000 young people accessing support services in 2019 – 2020. Breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage and trauma is critical to combatting homelessness among young people, writes Dr Eamonn McCarthy, the new CEO of Lighthouse Foundation. Over 1000 young people have been helped by Lighthouse Foundation, with over 80% never needing to access homelessness services again.
The causes behind homelessness
A number of factors are at play in the rise of homelessness. There is a shortage of affordable housing and increasing family violence, as well as addiction, poverty, and mental ill-health. Families break down under pressure, and young people become very vulnerable when the trauma of their experiences is not addressed. We sadly see children at an increasingly young age, impacted by compounding disadvantage and disengaging from education, which is such an important foundation for a good life. Loneliness and alienation from family and the community are also common for young people experiencing homelessness.
There is an increasing understanding of how unresolved trauma can affect a child’s development and it is now widely recognised that early actions to positively change a young person’s trajectory are crucial and can make a huge difference to individual’s achieving positive futures. At Lighthouse we are committed to breaking the pattern of intergenerational trauma and disadvantage through a range of programs that assist babies and young children who need care, through to homeless adolescents and young adults. Without these supports, the outlook is bleak for these kids.
Overcoming homelessness – Josie and Arjan’s stories
Ten years ago, Josie came to Lighthouse as an unhappy teenager, after a period of homelessness when she was involved in drug use and criminal property damage. She stayed two years in a Lighthouse home, and from that stable base, was able to complete high school. Her underlying physical and mental health conditions were able to be addressed, and she learned to take better care of herself. She contacted the Lighthouse team this year to get our help in completing some surveys which were part of her Masters Degree in Psychology. She had successfully completed her first degree at Vic Uni, and was now well on her way to a professional career in counselling. She recalled that her time at Lighthouse changed everything for her. Before Lighthouse, she had not had proper dental care, and getting her teeth fixed properly was a major self-esteem boost. But most importantly, she found friends, she felt accepted, and decided that she actually had a future.
Arjan came into Lighthouse directly from rough sleeping. He was part of a refugee family with much trauma from violent experiences and fractured relationships. He arrived with a huge new suitcase, which was unusual as most of our young people have just a small plastic bag of possessions. We later found out that the suitcase was actually empty. He moved in to one of the bedrooms decorated by the TV show -The Block. He appeared to make his bed immaculately very early each morning, carefully replacing all the cushions in a designer style. When asked about this after a few days, he admitted that he had slept on the floor, as he didn’t think he was the type of person who would have a bed like that. He said the comfy rug on the floor was the best he had ever had, and was all he needed. The carers worked with him to gradually accept that he was worthy of having a good life and nice things. The psychologists helped him to reframe some of his traumatic memories and find a way to manage the emotions that arose when those memories were triggered. He began to enjoy cooking for the household and came to feel that this was a key part of his heritage and identity.
After a couple of false starts, including a job that didn’t work out as an auto mechanic, Arjan transitioned to independent living after 18 months. He moved interstate to reconnect with an uncle and last we heard he was very happy working in a food van business.
The Lighthouse Approach
Based on psychodynamic principles of attachment theory and trauma-informed practice, the Lighthouse Therapeutic Model of Care provides for wrap-around holistic support that is individually tailored for each child and young person. Our Founder, Susan Barton AM, originally based the program on her own intuitive parenting style, and that is now backed up by evidence gathered over the 30 years Lighthouse has been operating. Community is a key factor in real recovery and reconnection, and we involve the community in our work as a circle of support around our suburban homes and the carers and children and young people within them. When one child’s life takes a more positive trajectory, that has a positive effect on others around them and on their future family, thus patterns of trauma and disadvantage are changed.
Lighthouse Foundation and Future Generation Australia
Future Generation Australia has supported Lighthouse Foundation since 2014, investing a total of $1.9 million.