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Featured Leader: Suzanne Caren on Navigating Parenthood Amidst Homelessness

4 min read

Young parents facing homelessness encounter a myriad of challenges, from securing stable accommodation in a competitive housing market to navigating financial uncertainties due to limited income sources and job market barriers, all while striving to support themselves and their children. 

To address the complexities of homelessness among young parents, Third Sector News sat down with MercyCare General Manager Youth, Wellbeing and Accommodation Suzanne Caren. 

What are the main challenges young parents face when experiencing homelessness or housing instability, especially in supporting themselves and their children? 

Young parents facing homelessness or housing instability encounter a multitude of challenges, both practical and emotional, as they strive to support themselves and their children, particularly:  

  • Obtaining secure and long-term accommodation in a competitive private rental market as well as a strained social housing system.  
  • Financial pressures particularly a lack of reliable income sources due to factors such as limited education, childcare responsibilities, or job market challenges. 
  • Inability to secure adequate Childcare which results in barriers to securing employment or attend education and training. 
  • Ability to access consistent and localised Healthcare due to not having a permanent address or finding it difficult to register for health insurance or rebated medical care. 
  • Increased various safety risks, including Family Domestic Violence and exploitation.  
  • Decreased Mental Health due to the toll homelessness can take such as anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues as they navigate their challenging circumstances. 
  • Isolation and stigma due to social isolation and feelings of shame. Young pare may feel judged or ostracized by their communities, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem. 
  • Continuing their education or accessing educational opportunities for themselves and their children can be difficult. Instability in living situations can disrupt schooling, making it challenging for children to succeed academically. 
  • Homelessness may coincide with legal issues such as custody battles, eviction proceedings, or involvement with child protective services. Navigating the legal system without stable housing or access to legal resources can be overwhelming. 
  • Meeting basic needs such as food, clothing, and hygiene becomes a daily struggle. Without stable housing, accessing these necessities can be uncertain and inconsistent.

What effective strategies or interventions do you think are crucial in helping young parents navigate and overcome the complexities of homelessness?  

Effective strategies and interventions to help young parents navigate and overcome homelessness involve addressing both immediate needs and underlying systemic issues.  

  1. Housing First Approach: providing stable and affordable housing is foundational to helping young parents and their children transition out of homelessness. The “Housing First” model prioritises securing permanent housing as the first step, followed by providing supportive services to address other needs. 
  2. Wraparound Support Services: offering comprehensive support services such as case management, counselling, childcare assistance, healthcare access, and employment resources can help young parents address the various challenges they face holistically. 
  3. Trauma-Informed Care: recognising and addressing the trauma that many homeless individuals, have experienced is crucial. Trauma-informed care emphasises creating safe and supportive environments that empower individuals to heal and build resilience. 
  4. Education and Employment Programs: providing access to education and job training programs tailored to the needs of young parents can help them gain skills and increase their earning potential, ultimately supporting their ability to achieve financial stability. 
  5. Childcare Assistance: access to affordable and reliable childcare services is essential for young parents to pursue education, employment, or other opportunities. Providing childcare subsidies can help alleviate this barrier. 
  6. Mental Health Support: offering mental health services, including counselling and support groups, can help young parents address the emotional challenges associated with homelessness and build coping strategies for resilience. 
  7. Peer Support and Mentorship: connecting young parents with peers who have experienced similar challenges can provide valuable support, encouragement, and guidance.  

How can community responses be tailored to address the unique needs and challenges of young parents from diverse cultural backgrounds or circumstances? 

Community Engagement and Advocacy play a large and important role in engaging the community in efforts to address homelessness and advocating for policies that support affordable housing, childcare, and other necessary services can create a more supportive environment for young parents and their children. 

Additionally, Prevention Strategies that focus on implementing upstream prevention strategies to address the root causes of homelessness, such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, and systemic inequalities, can help prevent young parents from becoming homeless in the first place. 

Which educational programs or vocational training have best equipped young parents with practical skills for future independence? 

At MercyCare we provide three tailored educational opportunities to equip young parents with the skills to maintain and sustain their tenancies while creating a healthy and active life for themselves and their children. 

  • The Coolock Parenting Program which focuses on child development, sleep, nutrition, play, routine, and community connections.  
  • MercyCare Roofs For Youths (Tenancy Program) which focusses on tenancy Rights and Responsibilities, inspection standards, Legislation and the Law, conflict resolution and maintenance.  
  • Independent Living Skills focusing on cooking, budgeting and health and wellness.   

The aim of education components is to provide a coordinated and integrated set of responses, strategies and goals that address the outcomes of the young persons and child/children’s needs and goals.  

Is there anything you would like to highlight? 

Early intervention, for young parents and their children who are facing homelessness, is critical in that it prevents short-term episodes of homelessness from escalating to long-term episodes, it provides an opportunity to address underlying issues and traumas early, promotes stability and preserves the young parent’s social networks, it can promote equality and is generally more cost-effective to social systems more broadly. 

Suzzane Caren will be speaking at the 6th Annual National Housing and Homelessness Forum. Register now to be part of the collaborative dialogue and the sharing of best practices, this forum will catalyse change, fostering a collective commitment to reshaping Australia’s housing landscape to tackle homelessness.

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.


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