Youth homelessness was an outcome of structural change in Australia’s economy and society since the 1970s such that early home leaving more often than not ended in homelessness. It was the subject of three inquires – a senate standing committee in 1982, a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity inquiry in 1988-1989 and a House of Representatives inquiry in 1995. All of these inquiries proposed useful measures that were poorly or incompletely implemented or simply not implemented at all. Youth homelessness is still a significant social problem and too many young Australians experience periods of homelessness than should ever be the case in a country such as Australia.
It was in response to what could be called a policy and program stalemate that the National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Homelessness (NYC) was launched, modelled on the HREOC Inquiry 20 years earlier. This time the NYC would be a fully independent community inquiry supported by private philanthropic funding from the Caledonia Foundation. Ian Darling and Shark Island productions was deeply involved making a feature documentary on youth homelessness The Oasis that was shown on ABC TV and distributed freely to all secondary schools throughout Australia. Homeless young people participated in the film for over two years, courageously sharing their life experiences. What emerged was a powerful effort to involve the community in an issue and a process of taking a solutions focused agenda up to government.
The NYC Inquiry into Youth Homelessness was a truly collective effort, hearing from 319 individuals, including young people, who provided evidence to the National Youth Commission during 21 public hearings held around Australia. The Inquiry received 91 written submissions, including submissions from some nine government departments.
As well as the main report, there was a short highly graphic booklet with a 10-point road map. Some 8000 copies of this mini-report were printed and freely distributed in schools and community agencies and to interested parties throughout Australia. There was also a curriculum booklet developed for use in schools with reference to the written reports. The 2007-2008 NYC had a major impact on the Government of the day and this was evident in the White Paper, The Road Home (Dec 2008).