JOHN keeps an optimistic approach to house-hunting. On-and-off homeless for most of the past decade, the 28-year-old knows what rock bottom alternatives are like.
In the past, John has couch-surfed but mostly with druggie mates. When high, he did not mind sleeping rough outdoors. When he was experiencing bad withdrawals, John would go to the hospital emergency department for shelter, warmth and care.
John said it got to a point where he knew his life had to change.
Rock bottom is having nothing. A way to look at it is it only gets better from here...Life gets hard but you take it one day at a time.John, Peplow House client
Those working on the frontlines with young men say helping to facilitate such change was a gruelling uphill battle in a city with the state's lowest rental vacancy rate at 0.8 per cent.
Peplow House senior key worker Lisa Keddie took a young man to a apply for a small one-bedroom rental in Ballarat and joined a queue with more than 40 other potential tenants.
We help educate men in navigating the private rental market on a daily basis, but we do it knowing there is a fair chance of being unsuccessful.Lisa Keddie, Peplow House senior key worker
"We hope we're up-skilling them enough to move on from the program and be able to do it themselves...That's something really important to us.," Ms Keddie said. "A lot of young guys don't have the life experience and probably have never rented before."
In the past 12 months, 65 per cent of men finding shelter in Peplow House have been under the age of 25. Data released for National Youth Homelessness Matters Day shows 28,000 young Australians aged 12-25 were experiencing homelessness, most escaping from conflict and violence.
Ms Keddie said it took a lot of courage for young men to overcome their pride and seek help. Many have dropped out of school early and are illiterate, needing help to fill out forms, let alone find their way via computerised systems.
John has been part of the Peplow House crisis accommodation program once before.
He has been clean for a couple of years now and has secured contract work in interstate mines but is reluctant to leave Ballarat, wanting to stay near his seriously unwell mum.
This leaves John to acutely feel the squeeze in Ballarat's rental market. He has applied for about four properties in the past fortnight.
The best advice he can give men younger than himself is to hang in there.
"Rock bottom is having nothing. A way to look at it is it only gets better from here," John said. "It's quite frustrating and hard but permanent accommodation here is what I'm trying to do. You've just got to try and look forward, that's pretty much all you can do. Life gets hard but you take it one day at a time."
Peplow House offers men up experiencing homelessness up to six weeks in short-term crisis accommodation. The primary focus is to help men find a permanent home but Ms Keddie said the program was also about holistic help for each individual whether it be in education, emotional support or linking them up with addiction and mental health services.
- READ MORE:'I was crying out for help'
Once a client might secure accommodation, the next big step was learning how to keep it. Centacare chief executive officer Tony Fitzgerald said many young men were entering a system incredibly under-prepared. Until they turn 18, young people are unable to enter a lease unless this is done via a parent or guardian.
Mr FitzGerald said out-of-home care had much higher compliance and oversight.
Then all of a sudden, you can do it legally yourself
"Then all of a sudden, you can do it legally yourself," Mr Fitzgerald said.
"You need referees and you need to navigate the private rental market...It's twice as hard for a young person, for example needing furniture and then being able to maintain a rental with very little skills and support.
"And then you're trying to do that on Newstart or we have a lot of guys on youth allowance, which is even less."
When it gets too hard, there is a lot of couch surfing. Mr Fitzgerald and Ms Keddie said a lot of their out-reach workers find young men couch surfing in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions.
"Instability doesn't lead to a strong environment to thrive," Mr Fitzgerald said.
Housing, jobs and education are all connected in what Mr Fitzgerald said was a complex multi-layered issue. If one element becomes troubled, this tended to pull the other elements down.
For young men who have dropped out of school early, job prospects became even more limited with a lack of basic qualifications.
Ms Keddie said while there were some great outcomes for her clients in the rental market, many still needed help to navigate payment for bills. Access to the internet and computers was often a luxury. But the biggest hurdle was the lack of housing available in Ballarat, securing that was the first step to moving forward.
- Anyone experiencing homelessness or hardship, contact Centacare's homelessness and advocacy support team on 5337 8999 or visit the Peel Street office.
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