Older people and homelessness

old lady

Older Australians experience homelessness. Seventeen per cent of homeless Australians are aged over 55 – that’s almost 18,000 people. People in this age group are also over represented among those living in temporary and insecure housing and at risk of homelessness. 
There is a chronic shortage of age-appropriate and affordable housing for older people who have been homeless, and this problem is likely to grow worse with an ageing population placing increasing pressure on the aged care system and community services generally.

Causes of homelessness for older people

There is a significant lack of affordable housing including a shortage of public housing.  In recent years the problem has been compounded further through the loss of private boarding houses in cities and caravans on Australia’s east coast.

A single person on a full Centrelink pension plus full rent assistance will receive just over $385 per week which is barely over the conservatively estimated poverty line of $328 per week
Becoming evicted resulting from an inability to pay rent due to the death of a spouse.

A dire lack of appropriate care for older people with complex needs amongst the aged population.
Domestic violence perpetrated on older women renders them particularly vulnerable to homelessness as they may have only a small amount of money if any from a settlement which is not enough to purchase or rent a home and also precludes them from obtaining public housing

Statistics for older homeless people

  • Counting the Homeless-2006 Census told us that 64 % of homeless older Australians are men and 36 & are women.Although older people make up 17% of the homeless population they are under-represented among people assisted by homeless services; only 6% of people who stayed in homeless assistance services in 2006-07 were aged over 55 years.
  • Whilst they are under-represented in homeless services this age group is over represented amongst those living in boarding houses and as marginal residents of caravan parks. A quarter of the people staying in boarding houses are over 55 and 42% of marginal residents of caravan parks in this age bracket.

People who are homeless for long periods of time often suffer from premature ageing, caused by the hardship of living rough. While they may be relatively young in terms of chronological age they share the health and care needs profile with much older people.

Older women

Older, single women in Australia are accumulating poverty instead of financial security, putting them at higher risk of homelessness.  Research has identified that factors other than domestic violence, a history of mental illness or alcohol and substance abuse are contributing to increasing levels of housing risk for single, ageing women.  Increasingly, older women are homeless because they are poor – often owing to detrimental social and economic impacts of divorce and separation.

So why are older women in danger of being the new face of homelessness? It’s important to remember that these women aren’t born and raised homeless, they become homeless for a range of reasons – caring for children interrupts working lives, reduces income, lessens job options and shrinks superannuation. Divorce leaves these women worse off than their partners – especially when they are the ones literally carrying the baby. Adult children don’t necessarily support ageing parents as they might once have. Fleeing domestic violence and abuse is a fundamental driver of homelessness. These are all reasons that are specific to women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.