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NFPs to Consider ‘Hidden Crisis’ of Homelessness and Older Women

18 October 2016 at 11:44 am
Lina Caneva
Not-for-profit organisations are joining forces to address a knowledge gap around an increasing number of older women experiencing homelessness.

Lina Caneva | 18 October 2016 at 11:44 am


NFPs to Consider ‘Hidden Crisis’ of Homelessness and Older Women
18 October 2016 at 11:44 am

Not-for-profit organisations are joining forces to address a knowledge gap around an increasing number of older women experiencing homelessness.

The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW is bringing a group of experts together to tackle what the welfare charity describes as “the hidden crisis of homelessness facing older women” as part of its annual Rosalie Rendu lecture. (It will be held on 20 October during Anti-Poverty Week).

Susan Ryan AO, former commissioner for age discrimination, will deliver the keynote speech based on her experience addressing disadvantage among older women. Experts from different social welfare and housing agencies will join a panel and audience discussions on the plight facing older women.

President of St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Denis Walsh, said there is a vacuum of information and research on the issues facing older women and homelessness.

“The Rosalie Rendu lecture this year is providing a platform for all of us in the social welfare and housing sectors to address this knowledge gap and begin formulating solutions,” Walsh said.

“Vinnies has developed a comprehensive Right to Home campaign to address issues around housing affordability.

“We will be launching a petition on the night calling on the NSW Government to change planning laws so that at least 15 per cent of new residential developments are set aside for affordable housing.”

Vinnies said 59 per cent of Australians seeking help from homelessness services are women, significantly higher than the UK’s 26 per cent and the USA’s 38 per cent.

“Thirty-six per cent of these women have been affected by domestic violence and it is the number one reason why they seek support from Vinnies and other specialist homelessness services,” Walsh said.

Earlier this month Mission Australia urged the federal government to take action to reduce the number of older women becoming homeless as part of International Day of Older Persons on 1 October.

Mission Australia’s CEO Catherine Yeomans warned that without an increase in appropriate affordable housing, the numbers of vulnerable older women without a safe place to live would continue to climb in Australia.

“We know from our services and the wider sector that this is a growing problem,” Yeomans said.

homelessness graph

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare profile of Specialist Homelessness Services: homeless clients 2011-12 to 2014-15

The CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Jack de Groot told Pro Bono Australia News that the data on older women is not comprehensive.

“What we do know is that many older women are coming out of relationships and are facing a vulnerability after often very productive lives,” de Groot said.

“They are also usually in lower paid jobs and now, as they face failing health, redundancy or retirement, they find they can no longer afford to pay escalating rents in the private rental market. These women struggle to keep a roof over their head.”

He said more research needed to be done into the systemic issues that lead to homelessness for older women and what are the ways forward for the sector to engage with these women and provide wrap around services for them.

“Application and research into their stories is crucial. When we talk about a ‘right to home’ we are not just talking about housing it’s about inclusion and participation and engagement with women and how they can best move forward.”

de Groot said most of these older women have never received Centrelink benefits before, so this process is difficult for them, and it was made a lot harder because they experienced a loss of dignity.

“When they finally reach out for help there are fewer targeted services available to them, leaving them to fall through the cracks. Gaining access to social housing is difficult for older women because they are rarely given priority status,” he said.

“The lack of affordable housing and the impact it is having on older women as they leave employment and relationships require a whole-of-government response and collaboration within the sector. If we can get 10,000 signatures then the petition can be brought to parliament for action to be taken.”


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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  • Lyn says:

    Having commented on housing issues in retrospect to renting previously, I would like to just target my comments around just how difficult it can be for a sole parent regardless of male of female. The stats do however, highlight that these concerns are higher for women than men.
    Women predominately take on the caring role, which unfortunately minimizes income, super, wage advancement, opportunity to apply for higher paying roles along with the affordability of building up professional skills and qualifications.
    Therefore, the disadvantage to women is already huge! Add to that minimal/or no child support and often the incapacity to obtain or sustain a mortgage, lack of support for many. For many, there is always the willingness to get out and do the best you can, but not at the sacrifice of your children. When you balance the parenting role alone…I mean literally alone, financially, emotionally and physically, there is never the opportunity to really make more money, than what it costs to live. Once the children leave home and are actually independent, there is a very small window of opportunity to get ahead financially. Obtaining a mortgage, that you know you will never finish paying, because you just cannot catch up, knowing that your super might last a year without working, and with your health a number one priority, the future for many does not look promising. Unfortunately most will end up renting what they can afford, and as your income diminishes, and no-one really want to employ you, you have very little choice in where you live. It is not through lack of trying, but a lack of financial resources. Yes there does need to be support from our Governments, but a welfare payment only sustains people, it does not give people a purpose, a goal and the support to become financially secure.

  • Jeya says:

    I share similar views expressed by Lyn. What I note here is the attempts to fix the symptoms that there is an increase in senior women becoming homeless rather than fix the cause. Women generally opted to flexible working conditions, do not stay long in the workforce or take lower paid jobs for child rearing responsibilities. But with flexible working arrangements , men have also step up to do their share in raising their children. Society does not encourage women to gain financial independence . Further we see younger men as they enter the workforce, often invest in some form of retirement plan, and this is not the case for women. Perhaps we need to have a two prong approach, target the work women entering the workforce, must have some form of retirement income plan made mandatory and also address the homelessness of senior women..

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