Youth voices push homeless reform

Noora, Clarissa, Mynah, Christina, Laura and Fatima inside Victoria's Parliament House.

By Maggy Liu

Six high school students from Gleneagles Secondary College are advocating on behalf of the homeless at this year’s YMCA Youth Parliament of Victoria.
After dedicating months of their spare time to researching, writing and perfecting a bill to give government-owned addresses to the homeless, they finally had the opportunity to debate its merits in Parliament House during the week of 3 July.
Gleneagles team member Christina Jayasedan explained that they chose this particular issue to focus on because it was topical and required long-overdue action.
“We saw on the local news that they were kicking homeless people off the streets and one of our classmates’ mum works at Centrelink, and she told us about how you couldn’t get the benefit without an address and we thought that’s just ridiculous.”
This is why their bill detailed a system for the homeless to access personal letterboxes at local council buildings and libraries so it was easier for them to apply for jobs, benefits and receive other correspondence.
Clarissa Cornelius acknowledged that their bill was only a small fight in a much larger battle to empower vulnerable citizens in Victoria, but emphasised the importance of collecting these smaller victories to form the foundation for larger social progression.
“At the end of the day, it is just a single step,” she said.
“It’s obviously not going to take out homeless in its entirety but we need to take a step at a time since there’s no way you can eliminate such a huge issue in a single process.”
After several rounds of heated debate in the chamber, the bill was passed in a conscious vote to the delight of the team, who all had positive reflections on their experience.
Noora Chatrary said one highlight for her was “meeting like-minded young people and bonding with them”.
Clarissa thought the most important takeaway for her was the importance of “spreading your voice and realising you can make a change”.
Christina Jayasedan perhaps benefitted from the program the most, believing her involvement had “definitely confirmed her aspirations to go into global studies and major in international politics at university”.
After Youth Parliament ended, all successful bills were to be handed to Youth Affairs Minister Jenny Mikakos.
Over the past 31 years of Youth Parliament, a handful of bills that have gone on to shape official legalisation including buying the morning after pill at the counter and roadside drug testing for drivers.
Only time will tell if government-owned addresses for the homeless will also become a reality.

– Maggy Liu was part of the YMCA Youth Press Gallery covering the Youth Parliament.