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Older women the new face of homelessness

Increasing levels of homelessness among older women needs our urgent attention.

Older women the new face of homelessness

Mission Australia is urging the government to take action to reduce the number of older women becoming homeless.

International Day of Older Persons is on Saturday 1 October, and Mission Australia’s CEO Catherine Yeomans has warned that the numbers of vulnerable older women without a safe place to live would continue to climb, if more affordable housing wasn’t made available.

Her warnings come in the wake of the State of the Family report released last year by welfare group, Anglicare, which found that older single women are particularly vulnerable to poverty and homelessness due to lower workplace participation, lifelong unpaid caring responsibilities and lack of affordable housing.

“Older single women represent the changing face of homelessness; experiencing homelessness for the first time later in life,” the report said. “Most have limited financial resources and assets meaning they are unable to hold their place in a housing market which is becoming increasingly unaffordable.”

Ms Yeomans is in little doubt that this was an emerging trend that needs urgent attention.  “We know from our services and the wider sector that this is a growing problem,” she says. “With the housing affordability crisis, older women and particularly single older women who are renting are particularly vulnerable to rental stress and at risk of homelessness. Small changes in their financial circumstances can affect their ability to pay rent such as if their landlord puts up the rent, unexpected health costs arise or there is an increase rise in their electricity bill.

Women who become homeless for the first time in later life are likely to have been private renters with a stable housing history. But homelessness may be triggered by a crisis such as widowhood, marital breakdown, a health crisis, financial difficulties after retirement, onset of a mental illness, unaffordable rent, eviction and accessibility problems.

With Australia’s ageing population predicted to double from 2010 to 2050, the issue will only continue unless the government takes action, she says.  Mission Australia has urged the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to facilitate funding of at least 200,000 new social homes by 2025 and capital works programs to update existing social infrastructure. The organisation is also calling for a pipeline of new affordable housing facilitated by leveraging private investment.

Ms Yeomans also urged older people who are homeless or close to falling into homelessness to reach out for help.

“Asking for help when experiencing a housing emergency early can help an older person to stay safely housed and stop them falling into a crisis situation. Then from that secure home base, they can stabilise other areas of their life, gain or maintain social networks and tailor health and other ongoing supports around them,” said Ms Yeomans.

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