American writer Marjorie Holmes once said: "at Christmas, all roads lead home." And yet, this Christmas more than 24,000 Victorians, of which a quarter are aged between 12 and 24 years old, will be homeless.
With incidents of youth homelessness expected to spike over the holiday season, Hope Street Youth and Family Services will be 'home' for a number of teenagers and young people.
Donna Bennett, Hope Street's CEO, said the specialist youth homeless service will be bracing for busy times with the last week of December and early January predictably busy periods for the youth homelessness sector.
"For the young people spending the holiday season in a refuge, Christmas can be a particularly challenging time," Ms Bennett said. "It is another reminder that they are not celebrating special occasions with their own family in their own home."
Requests for crisis outreach support are expected to be higher than usual, fuelled by increased incidents of family violence, often spurred by increased alcohol consumption, and increased financial stress which can put rental security in jeopardy.
Ms Bennett said that the festive season can also put a lot of financial pressure on young families who are anxious about disappointing their children.
"Children have an expectation that Father Christmas will visit, and young parents can put themselves under huge financial stress in order to deliver on this for their children," she said. "Many young people spend more than their budget allows to cover Christmas gifts and Christmas lunch - leaving not much left over with which to pay rent in January."
She added that other factors can also come into play that leave young people without a home: "Anecdotally, we find that people are keen to be a part of the Christmas culture of happy families and they therefore try to keep relationships intact for Christmas," she explains, "but soon after Christmas the relationships break down and the number of young people experiencing homelessness spikes as the post-Christmas realities kick in."
Donna said that the period from late December through early January traditionally sees an increase in demand for youth homelessness services.
Hope Street's residential sites across the northern and western regions of Melbourne in Whittlesea, Brunswick and Melton will be offering a temporary home and outreach services for Christmas to more than 50 young people, aged 16-21, some of who have children of their own.
The charity will be doing what it can to ensure this Christmas is special and memorable for the young people and young families in its care, with the support of corporate partners Ecodynamics, Mirvac (who run the nearby Woodlea housing development), Woodgrove Shopping Centre and Stramit, each young person spending the holidays in a Hope Street site will receive a gift on Christmas morning, and each site has a Christmas tree which the young people have helped to decorate.
The refuges will also enjoy a shared Christmas lunch complete with bonbons and Christmas puddings. The outreach clients, many of whom are couch-surfing at friends or relative's houses, will receive a Christmas food hamper which they can share with the family they are staying with.
Hope Street's First Response Youth Mobile Outreach Service in Melton will be operating every day from 10am to 12 midnightREFER UPDATE BELOW throughout the holiday season, including on Christmas Day, to respond to young people in need of crisis accommodation and support.
To learn more about youth homelessness and young people's lived experiences of homelessness, please see I Am A Young Person.