The changing face of homelessness

1 August 2023

Meet a woman whose double life as a teenager with a fake ID may surprise you. As we mark Homelessness Week from 7 to 13 August, join us to find ways to end homelessness.

A fake ID, a savvy older friend and survival instincts were the only things keeping 16-year-old Joal Presincula from the streets when she had nowhere else to go.

“We would go to clubs every single night and stay there until they closed.”

On weekends, they would head to a day club or kick on with people they’d met at the club. On weekdays they’d chill out in a cafe or at a library in the city.

“I had no idea that I was experiencing homelessness. Mind you I’d experienced homelessness on and off since I was five.”

The oldest of four children, Joal remembers being 5 years old when her mother first escaped family violence. She also remembers being 10, and living in a big house in the suburbs with her three siblings while her mum worked two jobs.

“Mum escaped again. She had her own trauma and clinical depression. She couldn’t keep working, so we lost the house and experienced homelessness as a family again.”

“It was really chaotic,” Joal said. She drifted towards the city and the nightlife in surrounding suburbs.

Across the country, young people are part of a growing cohort of people with a lived experience of homelessness. Children and young people experienced the worst increases in homelessness, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2021 Census.

The biggest increases since 2016 in the proportion of people experiencing homelessness was among children aged less than 12 – up by 11 per cent, and those aged 12 to 18 – up by 14 per cent.

Homelessness among women was up significantly from 2016, with the youngest women worst affected. There was a 10 per cent increase in the number of women, and a slower 2 per cent increase in the number of men experiencing homelessness since 2016.

Homelessness in the City of Melbourne

Homelessness can happen to anyone at any point in their lives. Homes Melbourne is committed to reducing homelessness and increasing safe, secure, and affordable housing in our city.

  • 1163 people experiencing homelessness in the City of Melbourne
  • 15 per cent were young people aged 15 to 25
  • 36 per cent of all people experiencing homelessness were women, and 20 per cent of women were young women aged 20 to 24
  • 5 per cent were Aboriginal peoples (Aboriginal peoples only comprise 0.5 per cent of our population)
  • 130 people sleeping rough.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 Census, released March 2023

Learning how to ask for help

Despite the disruption swirling around her, Joal still managed to get to school most days, and completed her VCE.

When she fell asleep in class, her friends assumed she’d had a big weekend.

“My friends had no idea. Nobody had any idea,” Joal said.

“It took a long time for me to realise that couch surfing was homelessness. It’s not just staying at a friend’s house, or at a hotel after the club. It’s actual homelessness.”

It was two years before her savvy older friend urged her to call a homelessness service in the west to help her find a bed in a youth refuge.

She was nearly 19 before transitional accommodation came up, and then she had to invoke her trademark resourcefulness to secure a private rental.

Things were relatively stable for three years. Joal’s boyfriend moved in. Joal had a baby at 22.

Joal has a different relationship to the city today

And yet things unravelled quickly when the landlord sold the property Joal called home.

“So I was experiencing homelessness again, now with a child. I tried to live with the baby’s dad for a bit, but there was family violence. We couch-surfed. We lived with family. We just lived anywhere we could.”

“You’d expect me to know by then how services worked, but I still had no idea,” Joal said.

Joal didn’t know that sharing a fuller picture of her situation with workers would help to prioritise her housing needs on a growing waiting list in metropolitan Melbourne.

“I didn’t spill my guts to anyone. I’d say: ‘I’m great, I just need help with somewhere to live’. And they were like, ‘you’re not bad enough’.”

No help came. Two more years evaporated.

How can we help to end homelessness?

  • More than 6000 safe and affordable rental homes are needed to meet current demand in the City of Melbourne alone.
  • Without intervention, this shortfall in safe housing is set to balloon to 23,200 by 2030.
  • City of Melbourne recently launched Homes Melbourne to address this shortfall.
  • We’re also teaming up with expert partners to transform a Council-owned building into specialist supported accommodation for about 50 residents, for up to 12 months. It’s called Make Room.
  • Make Room will help people reclaim control of their lives, with wraparound services to help each person recover and heal in their own way.
  • Here are 12 ways we’re helping people experiencing homelessness in the City of Melbourne.

What happened next for Joal

Joal’s anxiety escalated to panic attacks. A doctor prepared a mental health care plan, diagnosed her with depression and referred her to a psychologist.

That’s when things started to change for the better.

Joal’s psychologist paired her with a social worker.

Together they addressed Joal’s specific circumstances to give her the best chance of success in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

“Things changed because I was referred by the doctor, and because the psychologist was so holistic, and because the social worker was willing to help.”

As well as advocating to find Joal safe accommodation, the social worker also:

  • booked her in for daytime rehab, so she could take her daughter
  • connected her with a weekly playgroup and transport
  • arranged ongoing therapy
  • organised a laptop so she could study.

Secure housing finally came up for Joal 11 years ago. She’s still living in the same place.

“Looking back, it’s so funny to me that I only worked with that social worker for three months. But that three months is the reason I’m housed today all these years later.”

Recently, Joal turned 37. She now has two daughters: her older is 14, the younger is 8.

“Everything is safe and stable. My relationship to the city is different now too.”

Making a career of supporting others

Joal began her career supporting others as a peer support worker in the homelessness sector.

She would split her time between crisis accommodation and outreach work amid people still experiencing homelessness: maybe even one day find her savvy older friend on the streets and be able to repay the favour.

“I can be a translator between the social workers and the people with a lived experience of homelessness. I can be the one who bridges the gap.”

Now a lived-experience advocate and consultant, Joal regularly commutes to the city to train social workers in better ways to work with people who’ve experienced trauma and vulnerability.

“It’s about connecting with people, to say I know what you’re experiencing. I’m living proof that you won’t be experiencing this forever. It’s a point in your life. There is hope. Hang on. This will end one day.”

Through the Council to Homeless Persons, Joal is also a volunteer with the Peer Education Support Program, sharing her story and expertise to help end homelessness.

Every Melburnian deserves a safe place to sleep every night. Find out how we’re ending homelessness with Homes Melbourne. Keen to read more stories? Meet Lisa Townsend. And donate to Make Room during Homelessness Week.

Make Room at 602 Little Bourke Street Melbourne

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