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Older women the new face of homelessness


A national strategy and investment in safe, secure and affordable housing is needed to support an increasing number of older women in Australia, writes Debbie Georgopoulos.

Older women have emerged as one of the most vulnerable groups in relation to housing insecurity and homelessness in Australia in recent years.

They are not a group that is historically associated with homelessness and indeed, many older women have never been homeless before. They are less visible than other groups and the current service system is ill-prepared generally to provide timely housing solutions.

Debbie Georgopoulos

There was a 31 percent increase in the number of older women experiencing homelessness during the five year period between the 2011 and 2016 census. It is estimated that almost 7,000 older women were experiencing homelessness on the night of the 2016 census.

A National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, chaired by the Mercy Foundation, investigated the housing needs of older women.

It released Retiring into Poverty – A National Plan for Change: Increasing Housing Security for Older Women in late 2018 at Parliament House, Canberra.

The Working Group comprised leading academics, advocates and service providers, drawing on data, research and the day to day experience of specialist women’s housing providers.

From their work we know that Australian women aged over 50 are at risk of financial and housing insecurity because they did not benefit from compulsory superannuation at the beginning of their working lives and were more likely to be in low paid work and have time out of the workforce to have children.

Housing affordability in Australia, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is a major barrier for many older women. Home ownership is out of reach for many Australians and the private rental market has become unaffordable, particularly for singles.

The National Rental Affordability Index shows a severely unaffordable private rental market for single aged pensioners and Newstart recipients.

The plight of older women seeking safe, secure, affordable housing is showing up in requests for crisis accommodation and social housing. Demand for housing at this end of the housing continuum is far greater than the available supply. Often only short term assistance is available and the waiting times for social housing mean many older women may have to wait years before they receive an offer of housing.

The numbers of older women experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness are significant. The trends are definitive. And the impacts on individual women are major.

It is time for a National Housing Strategy and investment in safe, secure, affordable housing so older women can have a place to call home.

Next week’s Bi-Annual Conference of the Older Women’s Network, called ‘A Place to Call Home’, will focus on housing affordability. Keynote speakers include Jane Caro and Susan Ryan.

I am participating on a panel to discuss affordable housing along with representatives of other key organisations.

Join us to help come up with solutions to tackle homelessness and find older women a place to call home. Find out more here.

Debbie Georgopoulos is chief executive officer of Women’s Housing Company, a not-for-profit community housing provider

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3 Responses to Older women the new face of homelessness

  1. Alexandra October 14, 2019 at 4:46 pm #

    I would like to see more input from the women who are actually deemed “homeless” and how they got into that state.

    In my circumstances, my ex-husband transferred the marital home, property and money to his friend. I went to court to get my marital property back. Instead I was illegally evicted into the street by a court judge at the age of 64. Before I had my own roof over my head for 36 years.

    He sold my marital home, paid out his bills and then renovated and extended the home that my ex had also purchased without my knowledge and consent.

    In my matter, the court judges, just did not obey the law.

    In my journey through the courts, I saw other women loosing their homes by malfeasance of the law.

    The support services saved my life after the illegal eviction. Thanks to them, always.

  2. SHANA EDWARDS October 31, 2019 at 10:13 pm #

    Just as a bit of background to the moderators – I had a fantastic executive project manager corporate career with great super. I also have two degrees – Bach of Business and Bach of Psych Sciences with Swinburne University. But cannot get a job at 49. Got knocked backed today again. Feedback was that someone had more recent work experience. It’s tough out there. Women like me that also do volunteer work that are also being used will in serious trouble.

  3. Michelle W November 6, 2019 at 9:56 am #

    Public Housing ie. Homeswest, has just made me an ‘At Risk of Homelessness’ statistic. My casual income for 4 months, together with the Centrelink ‘top ups’ which I have to accept have exceeded the income limit of $22400 by a small amount. I now no longer qualify for Centrelink so my annual income at the end of the tax year may possibly be $17000 to $19000. That is if I am fortunate enough to be offered work for most of the year. Never mind the possibility of accident or illness to my 58 yr old body. Most of my work during the colder months, is in fact relief work to cover for those who are unable to work due to illness. This is not unusual when working in a swimming pool environment. So here I am, unable to afford private rental. And on top of that I get to be unemployed, since my employment requires clearances that you can’t get if you do not have a permanent address.

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