The 2011 NSW census found that 36% of older homeless people were women. However, this figure is considered to be an underestimate as older women experiencing homelessness are not generally found sleeping rough or in crisis accommodation, but are staying with friends, couch surfing or living in backpacker accommodation, boarding houses or hostels.
The housing needs of older women are not adequately addressed by either government policy or the service system. Older homeless women have not usually had a history of homelessness, they become homeless due to unemployment, illness or family crises such as separation, widowhood or domestic violence. Generally their housing problems result from poverty.
A group of non-government agencies concerned about the increasing numbers of homeless older women will launch a Plan for Change: Homes for older women on International Women’s Day (March 8). It calls on the NSW Government to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the increasing incidence of homeless older women.
“Among the strategies we are calling for is the funding of two new affordable housing projects for older women,” said Katherine McKernan, CEO of Homelessness NSW.
“One of these should be in Sydney, with the other in regional NSW, as the homelessness crisis of older single women in not just a metropolitan issue, but something that is occurring across NSW. New models of housing are need to support older single women and we believe that new affordable independent living models need to be develope.”
“There is also a need to ensure that the private rental sector is a viable long term option for older women,” said Ms McKernan.
The Plan also calls on the Federal Government to look at options for securing the financial independence of older women as lack of access to financial assets including super as well as an aged pension that is predicated on home ownership is contributing to the issue.