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Shortages in crisis housing leaving hundreds of homeless youths in Melbourne's outer south with nowhere to go

By Margaret Paul
Jack Knight helps young people in Frankston find housing, after experiencing homelessness himself as a young man. (Supplied)

Jack Knight was 18 when a family breakdown left him homeless, in Frankston, in 2015.

He spent a couple of nights on a friend's couch before he ended up sleeping in a garage.

"It was very cold," he said.

"I kind of just started wandering around Frankston, because I just didn't know what to do next."

He said he came across a youth hangout, and someone offered him a sausage in bread.

"I was just, like, I just have nowhere to go," he said.

A support worker helped him into transitional housing, and then into a share house.

Nowhere local to refer young people

Mr Knight started studying youth work, and now helps other young people facing homelessness, as a case manager with a support service in Frankston.

He said there was nowhere local to refer young people for crisis accommodation when they need it.

"You could turn around and say, 'hey, there might be a bed in North Melbourne tonight, but say it's a 16-year-old who lives in Frankston or Rosebud, and they're still going to high school, they just can't get there," he said.

"And you're going to expect them to catch public transport and get up at four in the morning to get to school? It's just not possible."

North Melbourne is more than 90km from Rosebud, and the trip can take more than 2.5 hours on public transport, each way.

He said he speaks to a young person needing crisis accommodation "every day".

"It's really disheartening," he said.

Demand doubles during the pandemic

A group of local support services have banded together to call on state and federal governments to fund youth crisis accommodation in the Frankston-Mornington Peninsula area.

Chief executive of Youth Support and Advocacy Service Andrew Bruun said at least 390 people aged 15-25 have needed emergency housing in the past two years, but there is nowhere local to send them.

He said that number has doubled since 2020.

Andrew Bruun says housing problems have worsened dramatically since the onset of the pandemic. (Supplied)

Mr Bruun said sending young people to stay in Highett, St Kilda or Dandenong was not appropriate, especially because most of them were relying on public transport.

"When they need to go out of the region, they disrupt their really supportive and helpful relationships with family, service providers, with schools," he said.

"So everything gets disrupted, and it's the opposite of what's required for someone who needs to get stable, and get back to a positive developmental path."

Mr Bruun said the group was seeking a pledge from both the federal and the state government to get behind providing emergency accommodation for young people in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula.

He said there have been discussions with all levels of government, but there was no firm pledge yet.

"People agree there's a need, it's really about getting the machinery of government to move," he said.

Rents increasing

Mr Knight now lives in a share house in Frankston, but even though he has a stable job, he said he still doesn't feel completely secure.

"I do kind of stress about the future and how I will ever be able to buy a house around here," he said.

He said he had been looking to move out of his share house, into a one-bedroom place on his own, around Frankston.

"I was offering six months in advance and not getting a bite," he said.

"They are asking $350-$400 a week, which is almost half my income."

Advocacy groups say long distances to available crisis accommodation near Melbourne makes it unfeasible for many young people in need. (ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Government says more accommodation coming

Across Victoria there are more than 20 youth crisis refuges.

A spokesperson for the Victorian government said it had delivered the biggest investment in social housing in the state's history, including the $5.3 billion Big Housing Build.

"In December last year the Victorian government announced $50 million for new housing projects for youth, aged 15 to 24, experiencing or at risk of homelessness across Victoria," the spokesperson said.

"Community housing agencies were asked to submit proposals, and these will be announced in the coming weeks."

In a statement, Labor's Dunkley MP Peta Murphy said she supports more youth crisis accommodation in the local community.

"Our community has a lack of local housing options for young people," she said.

"Many who need crisis accommodation are forced to travel over two hours away, leaving behind their community and supports."

The ABC contacted the Liberal candidates for Dunkley and Flinders for a response.

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