For many women, home is a provisional place. This has long been true. Violence, dispossession and poverty are not new.
What is recent is the increase in the number of women over the age of 55 experiencing housing stress, insecurity and homelessness.
On the 2016 Census night, for instance, there were an estimated 6,866 homeless older women in Australia. This was an increase of over 1600 women, or 31 per cent, since 2011.
The Mercury Foundation’s 2018 Retiring Into Poverty report describes an associated trend, with a rapid 97 per cent increase in older women renting privately between 2006 to 2016. While renting in itself is not a problem, in Australia the private rental market offers little ongoing tenure security and increases in rental costs are linked to homelessness. There is also a new global dimension to rental insecurity, with some private rental markets shrinking due to the rise of the home sharing economy. Taken together, these factors suggest that many older women are only temporarily housed in private rentals. The forced end of a tenancy, such as through ‘no cause’ eviction or an inability to meet a rent increase, can be what first pushes an older woman into homelessness.
Older women often seek to ‘solve’ their housing problems by staying temporarily with friends or family, ‘couch-surfing’, sometimes staying in unsuitable, overcrowded and dangerous housing, and even spending periods living in their cars. This may technically keep them from living on the street, but it hides their homelessness, even from themselves.
SOURCE: Ruth Quibell. “A precarious place: Older women, Housing insecurity & Homelessness.” Feminist Writers Festival, March 28, 2019.
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia