Everyone needs a warm, stable, secure home, especially in their golden age. However, after working hard for most of their lives, dedicating themselves to the care and upbringing of their families, they find themselves at an age when they should be enjoying their retirement, facing the risk of homelessness. The 2021 Census reported that the number of women over 55 experiencing homelessness increased by 44%, compared to 2016.
What an alarming statistic – as this woman could be your sister, your mum and your grandma.
So why are women over 55 in Australia more at risk of homelessness?
Women over 55 are at greater risk of financial and housing insecurity due to factors such as:
- Age Discrimination in the workplace
- Lack of supination
- Being domestic violence
- Being financially abused by a partner
- Take a long time to leave the workforce and focus on family
- Can’t afford safe housing
- Hard to leave an abusive relationship
These women have endured long-term discrimination and the adverse effects of societal biases on their careers and lives. Being forced to leave the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities in their marriages compounds societal prejudices. When these women, after years of absence from the workforce, attempt to re-enter, they are disheartened to find themselves disconnected from society and the professional world and subject to implicit ageism, making it difficult to reintegrate.
Additionally, women are subject to economic abuse for an extended period. They are not allowed to seek employment or even establish their ventures. Newly homeless women with no prior experience with homelessness feel extremely unsafe while on the streets and may even blame themselves.
Of course, we all understand that they are not at fault.
What can we do?
When discussing how we can help women who should be enjoying their golden years but are instead forced into homelessness, we should consider the following: what is the key to improving their homeless situation?
Elderly women are more likely to face gender and age discrimination compared to men. Studies show that lack of affordable housing puts many elderly Australians at risk of homelessness. For older women, major life setbacks such as divorce, unemployment, and serious illnesses can all lead them down the path of homelessness.
“Now, more than ever, we need targeted interventions through government policies and charitable investments to provide women with safe and affordable accommodation”, said Julie Reilly, CEO of Australian Women’s Investment Organisation.
ABS data shows that from 2006 to 2016, elderly female renters increased by 97%. Women receiving pensions and seeking rental housing are in a severely disadvantaged position due to the current rental market conditions and are struggling to find affordable housing.
However, the government fails to construct more affordable housing, leading to very long waiting lists for those eligible for such housing.
The number of people on the social housing waiting list in Victoria increased from 35,392 in June 2017 to 54,945 in March 2023.
In Melbourne, there are even fewer accommodations suitable for homeless older women. Many residents are male and suffer from mental health issues, substance abuse, or have recently been released from prison. The environment in such accommodations is often unstable. Elderly women are particularly vulnerable and do not feel safe in this kind of environment.
So, what could our government do to decrease these homelessness rates radically?
1. Increase Affordable Housing Supply
Invest in the construction and maintenance of affordable, safe housing units specifically designed to meet the needs of elderly individuals, including women.
2. Address Domestic Violence and Abuse
Implement measures to identify and support older women experiencing abuse or violence in their living situations.
3. Raise Awareness and Education
Launch public awareness campaigns and educational programs to inform women about their financial rights, resources, and available support services.
4. Encourage Economic Empowerment
Create initiatives that support women’s economic empowerment, including job training programs, access to affordable childcare, and entrepreneurship support.
Do you have your own thoughts on how to solve this crisis? What advice would you offer our policy makers?