Experts call for urgent action on older women’s homelessness

02 May 2019

The National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group is calling on all political parties to prioritise measures to address the rapid rise of older women experiencing housing stress and homelessness.

In August 2018 the group released Retiring into Poverty – A National Plan for Change: Increasing Housing Security For Older Womenat Parliament House in Canberra.

Maree Petersen said, “We are disappointed that although all parties have said that affordable housing is a priority, there are few discussions in the election campaign.

“The next Federal Government needs to urgently address how vulnerable people with few resources, who are reliant on the aged pension will be adequately supported.

“Housing providers and women’s services across the country are seeing more and more older women being rendered homeless and the data backs this up.

“Between the 2011 and 2016 Census’ there’s been a 31 per cent rise in homelessness among older women. Alarmingly, compared to 2006, there is a 97 per cent increase in the number of older women forced to rent in increasingly unaffordable private markets. There is a lack of affordable houses for older women to rent.  We are very concerned that this group of women is at great risk of homelessness.

“We need leadership at the highest level to tackle the systemic factors that mean these women continue to slip through the cracks.”

The group is advocating for the next Federal Government to:

  • Develop a National Housing and Homelessness Strategy that encourages State governments to create additional permanent social and affordable housing options for women in each State and Territory,
  • Include special measures to assist women at retirement age now who have not accumulated superannuation due to lower lifetime earnings and caring duties.
  • Establish a Seniors Housing Gateway Program to better address the housing support needs of vulnerable older women

“Increasingly women living on a fixed, low income or pension and who rent in the private rental market are at significant risk of homelessness and many don’t seek help due to the shame associated with their circumstances.

“Older women typically hide their homelessness by sleeping in their car or van, house-sitting or staying on friend’s couches – they are mostly invisible.

“Ahead of the upcoming election we’re asking all political parties to prioritise the needs of this very vulnerable group.

“After all, the older women who will benefit from this are our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, friends and even ourselves,” Jeanette Large said.

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Media contact:

Dr Maree Petersen, University of Queensland, (07) 3346 7314 is available for comment.

Ms Jeanette Large, Women’s Property Initiatives, (03) 9664 7804 is available for comment.

About the National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Group

In 2017 the Mercy Foundation convened a national group to examine the issue of growing numbers of older women experiencing homelessness. Membership includes Sue Mowbray, CEO, Mercy Foundation (National, based in New South Wales), Jeanette Large, CEO, WPI (Victoria), Dr Maree Petersen, Academic, The University of Queensland (Queensland), Dr Alice Clark, CEO, Shelter SA (South Australia), Karyn Walsh, CEO, Micah Projects Inc. (Queensland), Jeff Fiedler, National Development Worker, Housing for the Aged Action Group (Victoria), Frances Crimmins, CEO, YWCA Canberra (Australian Capital Territory), Dr Selina Tually, Academic, The University of Adelaide (South Australia), Gloria Sutherland, Women’s health researcher, The University of Notre Dame (Western Australia), Sally Kingdon Barbosa, CEO, Midland Women’s Health Care Place (Western Australia), Debbie Georgopoulos, CEO, Women’s Housing Company (New South Wales), Helen Dalley-Fisher, Manager, Equality Rights Alliance (National – based in Australian Capital Territory).