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After 17 years in the homelessness and domestic and family violence space, Trish Connolly recently stepped into the role of CEO for Yfoundations. She hopes her experience, drive and creativity will help shine a light on the issues and complexities of youth homelessness in Australia and push for a standalone government strategy that addresses children and young people. “We shouldn’t be failing our young people like we are,” Trish says. “We can’t forget about this next generation.”  

We talked to Trish about Youth Homelessness Matters Day (YHMD23), held on 19 April, what it means, and how you can get involved.

What is Yfoundations?

Yfoundations is the peak body for youth homelessness services in NSW. We’ve got approximately 40 members, which are mostly specialists in youth homelessness services. The role of a peak body is essentially to represent its members and keep across any policy developments going on in government, developing our own policy positions which reflect our members’ position, and advocating and campaigning to raise the issue of youth homelessness.

What’s YHMD all about?

Youth Homelessness Matters Day is a national campaign originally conceived in 1990. It’s been going for over 30 years as a national day to raise awareness and public discussion about child and youth homelessness. We’ve just launched a new logo, website and resources and we’re hoping it’ll be a big event.

This year, our main call is for the Australian Government to commit to developing a standalone National Child and Youth Homelessness and Housing Strategy. For too long, the specific and complex needs of children and young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness have been assumed to be the same as those of adults and have not been explicitly addressed in government plans to address homelessness.

We have a national petition on that people can sign which calls for the standalone strategy.

Why is YHMD important?

Any day we can shine a spotlight on youth homelessness is an important day. Historically, young people consistently miss out on the funding and resources needed to effectively respond to their needs. One reason is that youth homelessness can be so hidden – couch surfing for example is one of the most prevalent and also dangerous forms of homelessness that young people can experience. What does the young person have to do to be able to sleep on that couch or floor? There could be exploitation, sexual abuse, servitude or violence.

What are some examples of young people falling through the cracks?

Young people are resilient, they’ll find a way to survive by couch surfing, staying in severely overcrowded accommodation or returning to a violent home. But too often young people fall through the cracks. I’ll give you an example – one of our service providers had a 15-year-old girl with a one-year-old baby escaping domestic violence.

Where are we going to put her? She can’t go into a youth refuge because she has a baby, and she can’t get into a women’s refuge because she’s too young. We don’t have anywhere to put these young people. I met a young man yesterday who has just got out of corrective services. Someone has given him a fantastic job, but he’s couch surfing because there’s nowhere for him to go. He’s trying to get his life together but it’s very difficult without a secure, stable home.

How can people get involved in YHMD?

Visit the Youth Homelessness Matters website to find everything needed to support #YHMD2023 and amplify our call for the development of a standalone National Child and Youth Homelessness and Housing Strategy. This includes our live petition, campaign kit, resources including logos, social media tiles, a fact sheet, event posters and our YHMD video, as well as an event registration form if you’d like to run your own event on the day, and T-shirt information.

How does the Property Industry Foundation and Yfoundations share common ground?

I know of the wonderful work you do in building and refurbishing houses for young people to live in so our services can run youth-focused programs. The fact that the Foundation is involved in supporting young people experiencing homelessness, gives me so much optimism. Imagine if more industries and businesses were as interested in homelessness and contributed as much as the Property Industry Foundation does? It’s unlikely we would need to have a Youth Homelessness Matters Day in the next decade.