Through a community development approach, in 1990 EYIN produced innovative research and programs responding to the issue of homelessness amongst young people of Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese background.

As their reach into communities grew into the early 1990s, the Ethnic Youth Issues Network (EYIN) was able to identify and respond to previously hidden disadvantage experienced by young people, particularly those arriving as refugees through humanitarian migration programs. One of the earliest activities of the Ethnic Youth Issues Network was to respond to concerns raised by workers with young people that Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese young people who were either experiencing homelessness, or otherwise vulnerable, were not being supported through existing services and programs.

Australia’s program of humanitarian re-settlement for people from South East Asian Countries began in 1976 and accelerated during the 1980s. Between April 1975 to March 1991, Australia resettled 130,247 ‘Indo-Chinese’ refugees – a term commonly used at the time – primarily from Vietnam, Cambodia and China.1 Of the Vietnamese refugees, the majority were young people and Melbourne was the second most popular destination for settlement by people from Vietnam.2 The Ethnic Youth Issues Network were aware of the challenges and strains on newly settling refugee families as well as the particular vulnerabilities of unaccompanied minors. It was clear to EYIN that mainstream services needed to develop the capability to be responsive to the experiences and needs of refugee young people.

Through a community development approach, the Ethnic Youth Issues Network worked with these communities to better understand the nature of the homelessness experienced by young people and to develop service responses to meet their needs. At this time, the issue of youth homelessness had been raised in the public consciousness with the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissions 1989 report ‘Our Homeless Children.’ The inquiry reported they were told ‘there was a disturbing incidence of homelessness among Indo-Chinese refugees’ but lacked detailed insight into the issue.3

With the support of the MYER foundation, the Ethnic Youth Issues Network undertook a research project, involving extensive consultation with young people, their communities and service providers. The title of the report, ‘I Just Move Around and Around’, was a quote from a young person describing their experience of transience or ‘couch surfing’ without stable accommodation, highlighting the previously hidden nature of this homelessness which didn’t present in the more visible form of ‘rough sleeping’ on the streets. The report highlighted the inaccessibility of existing supports to these young people and made recommendations to address this. It was a landmark report, the first to offer a deep analysis of the issue of youth homelessness within an ethnic minority community. It attracted media attention and broadened the public’s understanding of youth homelessness.

With the ongoing support of the Myer Foundation, EYIN successfully advocated to the State Government for support in implementing the recommendations of the report through a unique funding partnership between the Foundation and the Government. This resulted in the establishment of two CLV youth homelessness services for young people, the development of a resource kit for housing and youth services called ‘Breaking Barriers’, and delivery of training for services in Victoria and interstate. A CLV worker’s network was also established to maintain a focus on supporting these young people and build capacity in the service sector.

Breaking Barriers - a Resource Kit for Housing and Youth Services Breaking Barriers - a Resource Kit for Housing and Youth Services
Network News Breaking Barriers The Hon. Caroline Hogg then Minister for Ethnic Affairs (centre) with EYIN staff Soo-Lin Quek and and Carmel Guerra at the launch of Breaking Barriers

1 Stevens, R. Immigration policy from 1970 to the Present. Routledge, New York. p108.

2 Jupp, P. (ed) The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their origins. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

3 See Chapter 13 of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1989) Report of the National Inquiry into Youth Homelessness. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. See too The Centre for Multicultural Youth (2008) Many Voices One Story. The Centre for Multicultural Youth, Carlton. p. 15

Image credits:

Ethnic Youth Issues Network (1990) I just move around and around. Ethnic Youth Issues Network, Youth Affairs Council of Victoria. Fitzroy.

Ethnic Youth Issues Network (1992) Breaking Barriers. Ethnic Youth Issues Network, Youth Affairs Council of Victoria. Fitzroy.

Ethnic Youth Issues Network, Network News, Vol 5, No 2, June 1992, p1.

Photograph of Soo-Lin Quek, Carmel Guerra and the Hon. Caroline Hogg, CMY archive.