Homelessness in childhood

Layla was in primary school when she first experienced homelessness. At the age of 11, she was living with her mother, who was struggling with substance abuse, and was unable to provide a stable home for her. "Due to my mother's behaviour I did not feel safe in the house as my mum would kick me out of home and then let me back, I never knew what to expect, so I started couch surfing at friends' places, telling my friends' parents that Mum was working late so they did not ask questions."

When Layla was 14, child protective services sent her to live with her father, but sadly this home was also unsafe for her. As a young person, she had no money, no job, and no family support network to rely on, so homelessness posed very real and unique challenges. The government system had failed her. Layla described how homelessness forced her to learn to live as an adult while she was still just a teenager. "I tried to keep going to school however the unstable housing and lack of appropriate supports made it really hard, I eventually could no longer attend. Due to my age I was excluded from the private rental market and I couldn't get a job. I had to rely on the building of relationships with other adults to assist me to access the things I needed. Having to rely on other people made me vulnerable and made me have to navigate complex relationships to ensure I had a roof over my head and access to basics such as food."

Layla first heard of Hope Street when she was 15 years old and pregnant with her son. She had been forced to leave her partner due to family violence, leaving her homeless once again. She was unsure what the future might hold for her, but she had been left with no choice. "I had to leave the house to protect myself and my unborn son. A friend stepped up and allowed me to stay with her. I really liked living there but this was not a long term solution. While at a Headspace appointment I found the Hope Street First Response Youth Mobile Outreach Service number, and I grabbed this just in case I needed it in the future as things had not been going well. If life had taught me anything by this point it was to try to be as prepared as possible."

The First Response Mobile Outreach Team came to visit Layla in 2018 after she had been placed in hotel accommodation by a homelessness worker. "The next day I walked to Hope Street's offices and met with the First Response Mobile Outreach Team Leader and her team. They assisted with a referral to a refuge, where I stayed for a few nights. From there I went to stay with a friend for a week and during this time a referral was made for me to join the Hope Street in Melton program." Within a month, Layla was signing a lease and moving into her own foyer-like supported transitional housing unit.

Layla's experience with homelessness has been a constant in her life, but nothing prepared her for the experience of homelessness as a young mother. Layla's son was born just before her 16th birthday, and just like that, all the tricks she had learnt to look after herself were no longer an option for her, now that she had her son to think of. "It's really hard to be a single mum at my age as I can't access all the things you need to create a stable home environment for my child, such as housing, without the support of programs like Hope Street."

Reflecting on her experiences, Layla sums up the most important things that she has learnt trying to navigate the support systems out there, and how the support of Hope Street was a turning point, allowing her to take control of her future. "During my time experiencing homelessness I learnt the importance of having the support of services who listen to my needs and respect what I have to say. It's also really important to have my supports come together and communicate regularly to make sure my goals are at the front of the plan. I lead my plan and know I can change my plan whenever needed to suit me and my son's life."

"I have learnt there are lots gaps in services and many people who experience the things I have are left unsupported. If I had the opportunity to live in a supported environment like Hope Street when I was 11, things would be a lot different."

Layla now has a support system in place that will work for her and keep her family together. "Hope Street provides my son with a house, a future, and me, his mum, as without the housing I may have not been able to have my son in my care. I love my son. Being a mum is hard but I look at my son and he is such a good kid, I know I must being doing something right.

With the help of Hope Street, Layla is looking to create a future for her son which looks starkly different to her own past. "I am working hard to take all the opportunities presented to me to provide for myself and my son. I am completing VCAL with the plan to study hairdressing and beauty services. My goal is to own my own business and provide a safe, stable and loving environment for my son."

*Name changed to protect identity

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