What Is the definition of “homelessness”?
In recent years, older women have caught public attention as the “new face of homelessness” in Australia.
The Australian Human Rights Commission defines homelessness as not having a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety or the ability to control living space.
However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition of ‘home’lessness (which is not the same as ‘roof’lessness) states that people are considered to be homeless if they do not have the financial, physical, psychological or personal means to access alternative accommodation, AND their current living arrangement falls into one of the following categories:
They live in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
They are unable to have control of, and access to space for social relations.
“…one of the most disadvantaged demographic profiles for a person to have is to be old, single, poor, female and in private rental accommodation…”
OWN’s report “It Could be You” provides a comprehensive view on the housing and homelessness crisis that older women in Australia face, along with proposals and policy suggestions for change.
6,866 older women were homeless, a 31% increase from 2011.
5,820 older women lived in marginal housing and were at risk of homelessness.
55-74 year OLD WOMEN who seek support from Homelessness Services has increased by 55% in the last decade.
Older Women are the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia
Whichever definition of homelessness is being used, homeless older women have tended to remain hidden from the official statistics for a long time.
In 2019, women over 55 were the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia.
OIder women often try to seek temporary shelters with friends or relatives, live in their car, or even endure domestic violence at home.
For many women, admitting that they are going through homelessness is a disastrous process.
Older women suffer from several layers of structural and individual risk factors that make them vulnerable to homelessness.
Individual risk factors include the death of a partner/supporting family member, divorce, loss of housing tied to employment, retirement or loss of employment, sudden illness/injury or serious mental health problems.
Socio-economic status and gender norms mean that older women often have lower salaries, savings, and superannuation than men.
They are also burdened with caring and reproductive responsibilities and are more likely to experience violence.
No housing strategy for older women
The housing system in Australia also fails to provide affordable and secure housing for older women.
Older women are increasingly turning to private rental instead of homeownership; yet the cost of private rental housing has increased dramatically in the past decade.
Despite all states and territories having a policy framework on social, affordable housing and homelessness, our policy system has not declared a specific housing strategy for older women.
The areas of homelessness, rent assistance, aged care and women’s support services remain separated.
Tackling these trends: Actions NSW Government must take
Ageing on the Edge NSW coalition, of which OWN NSW is an active member, has made three key recommendations which have been supported by the Parliamentary Inquiry Into Homelessness Amongst Older People Aged Over 55 in NSW:
Fund a specialist older peoples housing service
The system of homelessness services is complex and difficult for older people to navigate. The ‘Home at Last’ model of homelessness service provision is best-placed to assist in addressing the increased prevalence of homelessness among older people.
Lower the age for priority Social Housing from 80 years
It takes many years to complete NSW Housing Register applications and to receive housing offers that are accessible and appropriate.
Waiting until a person is 80 to be eligible for priority housing is not acceptable, particularly as the average life expectancy in Australia is approximately 83 years and lower for people experiencing homelessness.
Build more Public, Community and Affordable Housing
The increasing cost of rent places older people at risk homelessness. By investing in Public and Community Housing the Government can provide an affordable alternative for those who need it most.
OWN NSW demands that older women, along with other vulnerable groups in our society, are guaranteed safe, secure, affordable and suitable housing as a basic human right.
We advocate for prevention and intervention strategies to take a person-centric approach to understand both systemic and direct risk factors and we propose that a more holistic housing system be designed to highlight people’s well-being and social inclusion as a sustainable vision.
Kay Patterson the current Age Discrimination Commissioner has targeted older women at risk of homelessness as one of her top three priority areas. Read the Older Women’s Risk of Homelessness: Background Paper here.
The Older Women’s Network NSW is raising funds to build housing for older women as part of our efforts to end homelessness of older women. Read more about our Buy A Brick Campaign.