The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW is bringing a group of experts together to tackle what the welfare charity describes as “the hidden crisis of homelessness facing older women” as part of its annual Rosalie Rendu lecture. (It will be held on 20 October during Anti-Poverty Week).
Susan Ryan AO, former commissioner for age discrimination, will deliver the keynote speech based on her experience addressing disadvantage among older women. Experts from different social welfare and housing agencies will join a panel and audience discussions on the plight facing older women.
President of St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Denis Walsh, said there is a vacuum of information and research on the issues facing older women and homelessness.
“The Rosalie Rendu lecture this year is providing a platform for all of us in the social welfare and housing sectors to address this knowledge gap and begin formulating solutions,” Walsh said.
“Vinnies has developed a comprehensive Right to Home campaign to address issues around housing affordability.
“We will be launching a petition on the night calling on the NSW Government to change planning laws so that at least 15 per cent of new residential developments are set aside for affordable housing.”
Vinnies said 59 per cent of Australians seeking help from homelessness services are women, significantly higher than the UK’s 26 per cent and the USA’s 38 per cent.
“Thirty-six per cent of these women have been affected by domestic violence and it is the number one reason why they seek support from Vinnies and other specialist homelessness services,” Walsh said.
Earlier this month Mission Australia urged the federal government to take action to reduce the number of older women becoming homeless as part of International Day of Older Persons on 1 October.
Mission Australia’s CEO Catherine Yeomans warned that without an increase in appropriate affordable housing, the numbers of vulnerable older women without a safe place to live would continue to climb in Australia.
“We know from our services and the wider sector that this is a growing problem,” Yeomans said.
The CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Jack de Groot told Pro Bono Australia News that the data on older women is not comprehensive.
“What we do know is that many older women are coming out of relationships and are facing a vulnerability after often very productive lives,” de Groot said.
“They are also usually in lower paid jobs and now, as they face failing health, redundancy or retirement, they find they can no longer afford to pay escalating rents in the private rental market. These women struggle to keep a roof over their head.”
He said more research needed to be done into the systemic issues that lead to homelessness for older women and what are the ways forward for the sector to engage with these women and provide wrap around services for them.
“Application and research into their stories is crucial. When we talk about a ‘right to home’ we are not just talking about housing it’s about inclusion and participation and engagement with women and how they can best move forward.”
de Groot said most of these older women have never received Centrelink benefits before, so this process is difficult for them, and it was made a lot harder because they experienced a loss of dignity.
“When they finally reach out for help there are fewer targeted services available to them, leaving them to fall through the cracks. Gaining access to social housing is difficult for older women because they are rarely given priority status,” he said.
“The lack of affordable housing and the impact it is having on older women as they leave employment and relationships require a whole-of-government response and collaboration within the sector. If we can get 10,000 signatures then the petition can be brought to parliament for action to be taken.”