Older Australians at higher risk of homelessness
In the wake of COVID-19, growing numbers of older Australians are being pushed into homelessness.
James Toomey Mission Australia’s CEO says that “a perfect storm” of dwindling public housing and unemployment is causing more people over the age of 55 to be forced into homelessness. Mission Australia have joined a number of organisations in calling for an increase to the funding of public and social housing.
According to the most recent 2016 ABS data, there are 116,000 people experiencing homelessness across the nation. One in six people experiencing homelessness are over 55 years old. This is anticipated to rise with the 2021 Census statistics.
“The challenges of the pandemic have pushed many people, including older people, into poverty and homelessness,” Mr Toomey said.
“For many, it’s the first time in their lives they’ve been without a safe place to call home.”
The majority of older Australians experiencing homelessness are not ‘rough sleeping’ but are more likely to be living in unsafe or insecure living conditions like a car, temporary accommodation, a garage, or couch surfing.
“The dreadful combination of a number of factors including a severe shortage of social housing and affordable rentals, abysmally low rate of JobSeeker and other income support payments and a lack of secure, ongoing employment options is leading to an increase in housing insecurity and homelessness, including for our older Australians.”
Women over 45 are currently the fastest growing group at risk of homelessness, due to lower retirement savings and superannuation and cost of living expenses.
The University of South Australia’s Debbie Faulkner and Adelaide University’s Laurence Lester recently researched the contributing factors that lead to homelessness for this group. In a piece for The Conversation, they quantify the impacts of the various factors that may increase women’s risk of becoming homeless.
They found that unaffordable housing was a major factor, that is compounded if a person was not employed full time and further still if they were a lone parent.
“Australia has made little policy progress on housing affordability,” they write.
“We also have a severe shortage of social housing to meet demand. This points to the need to pursue other avenues to improve the lives of older low-income households.”
Alongside the pressures of the pandemic, these can leave older women more vulnerable to life shocks such as sudden illness, job loss, domestic violence, or when they are widowed,” Mr Toomey said.
“The challenges over the past year have really reinforced the need for older members of our community to have stable accommodation and access to adequate supports so they can look after their mental and physical health and live with respect and dignity.”
Mission Australia are currently collecting donations to the charity’s winter appeal.