‘New ideas to old problems’ needed says head of innovative housing service

Australia needs new solutions to address the growing number of homeless seniors, Liz Thomas will tell providers at the upcoming ACSA/IAHSA conference.

Australia needs new solutions to address the growing number of homeless seniors, Liz Thomas will tell providers at the ACSA/IAHSA conference.

Liz Thomas is worried.

She’s worried about the various indicators suggesting that the new face of poverty in Australia is an 80-year-old woman.

“We need innovative solutions to look after this cohort,” said Ms Thomas, who is managing director of Common Ground Tasmanian, a service that provides long-term, affordable housing and support services.

Ms Thomas said that since Common Ground Tasmania opened three years ago, older women had been drawn to the model as it provided safe and secure accommodation with a sense of community and purpose.

Liz Thomas with Common Ground resident Darren
Liz Thomas with Common Ground resident Darren

As Australian Ageing Agenda has extensively reported, service providers and researchers have been calling on government to address the growing number of homeless older people, and older women in particular. Earlier this month, HammondCare said that the lack of affordable housing was contributing to growing number of homeless seniors, who were one of the most vulnerable groups due to their complex needs.

Ms Thomas, who will present on her organisation’s approach at the upcoming ACSA/IAHSA Joint International Conference, said that many people experiencing homelessness did not just need a house, they needed support to stay housed.

“Common Ground combines housing with support. We have on-site support services, a team of social workers and other people skilled in supporting people in residential settings,” Ms Thomas told AAA.

The model provides permanent accommodation – tenants sign leases under the Residential Tenancy Act – and catered to a “social mix” of clients, with half being long-term homeless and the other half affordable housing tenants.

Having noticed that chronically homeless tenants were predominantly male, the service tried to encourage applications for the affordable housing units from females, Ms Thomas said. “We found that it started to really appeal to older females, in particular, who were looking for a safe affordable accommodation, with a sense of community and purpose.”

Sense of community

Liz Thomas with Common Ground staff and residents
Liz Thomas with Common Ground staff and residents

A number of tenants received rent reductions in return for providing services to the community, Ms Thomas said, with one lady running an art studio for two hours a week, while another did gardening.

“With a lot of our affordable housing clients, in that older cohort of women, they are actually developing quite supportive relationships with a lot of those males who have been long-term homeless,” she said.

“If you go into any crisis shelter there will be over-representation of men, so we’re about creating the community that reflects the society that exists, which is a gender balanced environment,” said Ms Thomas.

The Common Ground model, which originated in New York 30 years ago and has since spread globally, involved bringing business, government and the community together to deliver services.

“It’s about acknowledging that some of our systemic social issues really do require a multidisciplinary approach and that’s about bringing business to the table with more than their chequebook,” said Ms Thomas.

Click here for more information on Common Ground Tasmania

The ACSA/IAHSA Ioint International Conference takes place from 31 August to 4 September at Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre.

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Tags: ACSA-IAHSA, Common Ground Tasmania,

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