Rangatahi advocates are concerned current support offered to youth is not adequate to meet their needs, pushing many young people directly into hardship and poverty.
They are calling on the government to prioritise young people experiencing hardship in the upcoming Budget announcement.
A recent Oranga Tamariki review of housing services for young people found one in 10 rangatahi transitioning from care or from the youth justice system were living in some form of unstable accommodation upon their transition.
See RNZ's full coverage of the 2023 Budget here
The report highlighted that though there were over 5000 young people eligible for transition support, only 134 supported housing places were available nationally.
Independent charity organisation VOYCE helps to advocate for the approximately 6000 children with care experience in New Zealand.
National care-experienced youth participation advisor Mary-Lynn Huxford said the government should be focusing on ensuring all young people transitioning out of care have the resources they need.
"This discrepancy between the support on offer and the need has led to young people experiencing homelessness and living in unstable, unsafe, and inadequate housing," she said.
"When we talk about these big issues, it often feels that young people are viewed as worth less than everyone else.
"But it's not okay that so many of us are struggling to survive. The whole point of welfare is so that all of us live with dignity, so that all of us can thrive."
At its most basic level, this meant ensuring that young people have access to good food, timely healthcare and safe and supported housing, Huxford said.
'We struggle to navigate the system'
Nineteen-year-old David*, his partner and their newborn baby have been living in between emergency and transitional housing for the past four months, since the home they rented in the Auckland suburb of Papakura was put up for sale.
He said the process for a young adult can be frustrating.
"We struggle very much to navigate the system and understand things."
He said young people experiencing hardship needed more support.
"I just wanted the government to look out for us, help us understand the system and make a change in the lives of so many young people struggling.
"Sometimes it's difficult to face all the paperwork without an advocate. Sometimes we feel we have nowhere to go for help, [we feel] just hopeless."
Young people transitioning out of care often do not have the same support structures as other rangatahi, Huxford said.
"It's important we recognise that due to their care experience, many had their connections with their whānau severed."
This means that as they leave the system, they do not have those natural supports to lean on when things get hard.
"It's important we recognise that for these young people, the state is their parent, and yet young people are not getting the support they need."
Youth support not adequate - advocate
VOYCE youth advocate Tupua Urlich had been through the state care system, and said as the cost of living rose, it was vital the support available matched the need.
"When you're making decisions about whether to buy food or pay rent, you're not left with any chance to even begin to dream or think about your future. You're just trying to survive."
Urlich said as a result, the charity often heard from young people as soon as they left school and started looking for work because they did not have enough to make ends meet, and they could not afford to live on the Youth Payment.
"This raises concern that, in its current design, our welfare system is manufacturing benefit dependency for our young people."
Young people coming out of care are forced into adulthood immediately, he said.
"Many don't have the support they need, nor the safety net of whānau and community that other young people have. And yet the benefit that many need to access to survive - while they seek to finish their education and get on their feet - is valued less than that of adults."
"That's a reality in our clean, green country that I think people sometimes forget - children are starving every day, teenagers are going hungry."
Huxford said to ensure young people have the support they need, the government should commit to raising the Youth Payment to the same as those on the adult benefit.
Currently, a single adult (25 years old and over) receives $52.80 more in their payment than a young person who is living independently.
"And yet things aren't cheaper because you're young. A loaf of bread doesn't cost a different amount if you're a young person than if you're an adult," Huxford said.
'Issue that we must address collectively'
Through a statement, Associate Minister for Housing and Urban Development Marama Davidson said there are many pathways and drivers into homelessness, making it an issue we must address collectively.
Davidson said one of the most effective ways to disrupt the cycle of homelessness from recurring through adulthood was to make sure they were provided with the right support for rangatahi at risk of, or facing, homelessness.
"Acknowledging the specific support that young people need, through funding under the Homelessness Action Plan and Budget 2022, we are delivering rangatahi-focused transitional housing. There are approximately 100 placements operating across the country, with more still to be delivered.
"Budget 2022 also provided funding to develop a more supported form of safe and stable accommodation for rangatahi, alongside strengthening kaupapa Māori responses. Sustained investment is critical to supporting our most vulnerable whānau."
Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said she had directed officials to provide further advice on aligning youth rates of benefit with those of other main benefits.
It said over the next 12 months it will build on steps already taken to improve childcare assistance by continuing the Childcare Assistance review.
"We will continue to explore options to improve MSD's childcare assistance to reduce financial barriers to work for parents by increasing adequacy and accessibility of the subsidies."
Sepuloni said the ongoing review of Working for Families will seek to develop options that improve the design and structure of tax credits to reduce financial barriers to work and reduce child poverty.
*name changed to protect privacy