Publish Date:

13 August 2023

Young people experiencing homelessness

Kia ora, did you know that August 12th is International Youth Day?  

It is certainly a good time to stop and think about the taiohi (young people) in your community who may not have a place to call home. It’s a harsh reality that many taiohi in our own backyard face every day. In this blog post, we’re going to explain what taiohi homelessness looks like in Aotearoa and ways we can do something about it.  

Understanding taiohi homelessness  

Youth age is defined differently by a range of legislation, organisations, services, and cultures. For example, by law, anyone under the age of 18 is recognised as a child or young person. Whereas the Ministry of Youth Development describes young people as between the ages of 12 to 24 years. But within a Māori worldview, the definition is also based on context, not necessarily bound by age. Taking these considerations into account, 11% of our whānau ever supported, and 9% ever housed are taiohi under 25 years old.1  

In Aotearoa, around half of those experiencing homelessness are under 25 years old – yet they make up only 25% of the total population. What is more alarming is that this is likely an underrepresentation as homeless taiohi tend to move from place to place, often referred to as “hidden homelessness.”  

To begin to understand the complexity of taiohi homelessness, it is vital that we are aware of its drivers. Homelessness is the outcome of structural issues such as poverty, colonisation, and discrimination. Other drivers of homelessness also include mental health, addiction, trauma and a breakdown in whānau relationships.  

Poverty is one of the biggest factors that leads to taiohi experiencing homelessness. New research from the longitudinal study ‘Growing up in New Zealand’ (conducted by the University of Auckland) gives us a snapshot of the level of poverty some of our tamariki and taiohi are experiencing:   

  • One in five young New Zealanders have experienced material hardship by their pre-teen years 
  • One out of every fourteen young people had encountered severe housing deprivation, or homelessness, at least once during 8-12 years of age   
  • Roughly one in five young people have been experiencing the most unstable tenancies or worsening housing stability since birth which is mostly associated with material hardship, living in public housing or private rentals and homelessness  

This highlights that we must address the underlying disparities that fuel poverty and housing instability if we are to tackle taiohi homelessness.  

We know that mental health, addiction, and trauma can be both a driver and a consequence of homelessness. For taiohi, providing a stable home is the first step. But the second step is offering wrap-around support to address their wellbeing needs. This is vital if we are to effectively support taiohi to whakapuāwai (flourish).  

Whānau wellbeing is another critical reason why taiohi can experience homelessness. Difficulties within a whānau can lead to strained relationships, lack of support, and even abuse or neglect, pushing taiohi out onto the streets. To address this, we need to prioritise interventions that support the whole whānau and promote healthy and thriving dynamics. 

Ways forward for supporting taiohi experiencing homelessness 

This blog post demonstrates that taiohi homelessness is more complex than simply lacking a place to stay. By delving into the underlying causes, we can develop effective solutions to address the systemic issues at play. By investing in the wellbeing of our young people, we can break the cycle of homelessness and help taiohi build secure and successful lives.  

Mā Te Huruhuru, an organisation part of a youth housing collective, Manaaki Rangatahi, recently opened the first kaupapa Māori transitional housing service for homeless taiohi, He Pā Piringa. While there, taihoi will take part in the Te Pae Tawhiti programme which supports Māori taihoi to reconnect to their identity, heal, and restore their mauri ora. After 52 weeks, taihoi will transition into social housing through other members of the Manaaki Rangatahi Collective, which includes some of our Providers in the HFAC. This example shows that together, through understanding and compassion, we can create a society where no one experiences the hardships of homelessness. 

It is crucial that we adopt a comprehensive approach with both short and long-term strategies. By considering the immediate needs of taiohi, like providing them with shelter and essential services, we can ensure they receive the support they urgently require. Offering wraparound services like counselling, mentoring, and programmes, such as gaining educational and employment skills, also play a vital role in empowering these taiohi. By addressing their needs promptly and holistically, we can pave the way for long-term positive outcomes in their lives. 

Final say 

Whether it’s offering support, raising awareness, or providing resources, each small effort can have a big impact. So, let’s roll up our sleeves, work collectively, and show our amazing taiohi that they are not alone. Together, we can make a lasting change and ensure that everyone has a place to call home. 


1 HFAC data does not capture age under 18 years