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Report Finds Sharp Rise in Older Women Experiencing Homelessness

28 August 2018 at 5:30 pm
Maggie Coggan
Older women experiencing homelessness has risen 31 per cent since 2011, according to new research.

Maggie Coggan | 28 August 2018 at 5:30 pm


Report Finds Sharp Rise in Older Women Experiencing Homelessness
28 August 2018 at 5:30 pm

Older women experiencing homelessness has risen 31 per cent since 2011, according to new research.

The report, “Retiring into Poverty”, released by the National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, said systemic factors such as lower superannuation, unequal pay and forced time off to raise children were key factors of the increase.

The Working Group was lead by the Mercy Foundation, and consisted of a number of housing and homelessness policy leaders, researchers and practitioners.

CEO of the Mercy Foundation, Felicity Reynolds, told Pro Bono News the combination of women having a lower overall income and housing affordability in major cities was a cause of great instability.

“Housing affordability in the major cities has grown so significantly in the past decade that women who weren’t in a position to purchase a home during their lifetime, and are currently single in older age, are really suffering in the private rental market in major and regional cities,” Reynolds said.

The number of older women accessing the private rental market increased by 45,000 in a five year period, which according to the report, was not viable for older women who were experiencing poverty due to systematic factors.          

“The National Rental Affordability Index shows a severely unaffordable private rental market for single aged pensioners and Newstart recipients,” the report stated.

The report outlined the need for better services targeted to this group, as although there were “1,518 homelessness service agencies across Australia”, only three of those were “funded as specialist services for older people”.

Reynolds also said an issue older women faced was they tended to not “self identify as experiencing homelessness”, meaning more work had to be done within the sector to identify them.  

“There’s a bit of a stereotype about what homelessness is, and that type tends to involve perhaps an older older man on the street drinking out of a paper bag,” she said.

“This means they don’t identify as homeless, because they’re not sleeping on a street, they’re staying with friends or family, or their car, and doing a whole lot of things to completely avoid sleeping on the streets because it is unsafe.”

The Working Group said while they would like to see the roll-out of a centralised program “older people can phone and find out what their options are” when faced with homelessness, the main response needed from state and federal governments was a national housing and homelessness strategy.

“I understand it’s largely a state responsibility, however the federal government does have a role in actually developing a national housing and homelessness strategy that could encourage the state governments to try,” Reynolds said.  

In response to the report, shadow minister for housing and homelessness, Senator Doug Cameron, said it drew attention to “key issues, and how they are manifesting in greater housing insecurity and homelessness for older women”.

Cameron said a Shorten Labor government would “pursue a comprehensive suite of housing affordability and supply reforms”, and tackle the “gendered components of homelessness”.

Reynolds welcomed Labor’s pledges, but said a complete overhaul of the system was needed.

The model we have in Australia is completely broken, because it’s based on crisis services. What we need to have is a housing response for older women experiencing homelessness because they simply need affordable housing,” she said.

The report called for “a dedicated housing minister” to “take carriage and responsibility” for the housing strategy, which Cameron also said would happen under a Labor government.

Reynolds was “optimistic” change will take place, but said “women’s economic security” needed to be made a priority for those who’ve faced “systematic discrimination”.

“There may need to be a form of monetary catch up with older women who were made to leave jobs when they got married in the 60s, or when they got pregnant… in order to help them retire in a dignified way,” she said.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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