Joel Callen


Tue, 7 Jul, 2015

The homelessness plight of older Australians

The homelessness plight of older Australians

After the break-up of her 36-year marriage, Kay Dolman found herself homeless after a car accident and rising rent costs. Ms Dolman had been a full-time mother of three, was low skilled and had no superannuation to support her.

"It was nobody's fault," Ms Dolman tells The Age, "but I remember thinking that the future was so dismal." 

Ms Dolman was able to get ahead by house-sitting while she improved her employment skills. But it wasn’t until she got into a subsidised rental arrangement through a women's housing organisation that her life began to really improve.

"Being in affordable housing took so much pressure off me," she says. 

These days her casual employment and pension means that Ms Dolman has a car, some superannuation and is able to enjoy spending time on her own hobbies.

"I'm turning 69 this year, I see that I have a life ahead of me," she says. "I've come from feeling a victim to feeling empowered."

Hoping to investigate some solutions, the Council on the Ageing held a national forum on homelessness in Canberra last week. They noted the genders have very different experiences later in life.

"In general, women live longer and have much better mental and physical health, but they are often much less well prepared financially, particularly if they are single,” said Chief Executive of the Council Ian Yates.

Men are often better off financially but find it more difficult to maintain wellbeing into old age and are more likely to experience social isolation and mental health issues.

With twenty per cent of homeless people aged 55 or older, Yates says governments need to be doing more to support older Australians who could be affected by poverty and homelessness due to financial insecurity.

However, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to the situation and Mr Yates said there needed to be more tailored approaches to homelessness and older people. He also said that there were different paths and situations that led to homelessness.

One solution suggested by Mr Yates was the idea that governments could try to make it easier for people to "catch up" on their superannuation in later life, as well as a focus on addressing the "appalling lack" of social housing. 

The government has just created an Ambassador for Mature Age Employment and released a discussion paper outlining the responsibilities that state and federal government should take for funding homelessness and housing services. 

The paper revealed many Australians were finding it difficult to afford safe and secure housing options, that public housing was "not sustainable" in its current format, and that homelessness services were being put under pressure. 

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