Older women and homelessness

The Mercy Foundation has a special interest in older women and homelessness. Since 2014, we have been researching this area, funding projects and advocating for change in policy and programs to address this serious issue.


The Mercy Foundation co-facilitated a NSW working group focussed on older women’s housing and homelessness issues from 2015 to 2017. This group was successful in articulating a policy and program advocacy agenda to address the State Government related issues.

The group’s efforts led to a greater public and government awareness of the problem and most recently, the NSW government announced that Phase 2 of the Social and Affordable Housing Fund will target older women. The problem’s haven’t been solved, but there is now greater awareness of the issue and some of the policy solutions.

National Plan

Following the success of the NSW advocacy group, the Mercy Foundation established the National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, a national group focussed on older women’s housing and homelessness issues. National issues include income support, the gender pay gap and women’s superannuation. With key academic, policy and practice representatives from NSW, Queensland, Victoria, ACT, SA and WA, the group developed a plan Retiring into Poverty – National Plan for Change – Increasing Housing Security for Older Women 23 August 2018 launched on August 23, 2018 at parliament House in Canberra.

The report discusses the compounding and systemic factors that have led to financial and housing insecurity for women over 50, such as:

  • they did not benefit from compulsory superannuation
  • many were paid at a lower rate than their male counterparts
  • they took time out of the workforce to care for children and fulfil other caring roles
  • many faced systemic discrimination in relation to past employment practices for married or pregnant women
  • financial discrimination that made it impossible for single women to enter into a home mortgage until the late 1970’s

Older single women have emerged as the fastest growing cohort of people experiencing housing stress and homelessness. The report provides eight distinct recommendations to address this issue for women now and into the future.


The Mercy Foundation has funded the following projects through the Grants to End Homelessness program to help address older women at risk of or experiencing homelessness:

Victoria Women’s Housing Association trading as Women’s Property Initiatives: Shared Equity Housing for Older Women

This is a pilot project of a shared equity home ownership scheme between Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI), a registered housing provider and individual women over 55 years of age. The project has the potential to prevent homelessness for women over 55 who are not eligible for social housing and have limited access to resources to sustain private rental housing into the future. It provides a permanent, appropriate and affordable housing ownership option for this group of women.

Sydney Women’s Homelessness Alliance: Older Women’s Studio Development Project

This project funded the development of design guidelines suitable to the housing needs of single, homeless older women. Follow this link to read the report: Older Women’s Studio Development Project 2017


The following research was commissioned by the Mercy Foundation

Older Women’s Pathways out of Homelessness in Australia February 2014, Maree Petersen and Cameron Parsell

The Mercy Foundation participated in the reference group for this research project

Older People at risk of Homelessness in NSW J.Fiedler and D. Faulkner