Publication Details

Harwood, V. & Phelan, R. (1995). Equitable access to education for young homeless people. In P. Saunders & S. Shaver (Eds.), Social Policy and the Challenges of Social Change: Proceedings of the National Social Policy Conference, Volume 2 (pp. 49-59). Sydney, Australia: Social Policy Research Centre.


At the National Social Policy Conference in 1995 we were one of a minority of service providers presenting a paper; in fact we found ourselves presenting with one other of this minority at the last session of the conference on Friday afternoon. It was a disappointing time slot and left us pondering the question of how seriously 'policy makers' take the contributions of the people who are at the 'coalface'. We made the decision to present a paper at the conference because we believe the program we initiated is innovative and beneficial to a severely marginalised group of young people. The program is different because it looks at the dilemma of homeless youth, health and education holistically. The difficulty we have encountered is that at the departmental level (New South Wales Department of Health, New South Wales Department of School Education, Department of Social Security, Department of Community Services, Department of Employment Education and Training) this issue is not considered holistically. For example, the NSW Department of Health will not fund us, as we are 'education' and the NSW Department of School Education will not fund us because we are 'health'. Our work raises issues at the service level, and we want to suggest that it is critical that these issues be heard at the policy level, where recognition of how we 'compartmentalise' young people because of departmental structures can be both understood and addressed. Education is something we are all told (and some of us tell others) is a basic right. Yet there are many young people who do not have access to this 'basic right'. Some of these young people are experiencing homelessness and for some, the complications of school problems have been a determining factor in their homelessness. It will not be until integrated methods are put in place that the needs of our younger generation who have difficult life circumstances and for whom schooling is not designed will be equitably serviced.