Older single women are the fastest growing cohort of people experiencing homelessness in Australia. Why is this? And what are the drivers for better outcomes for these women?
Projections based on current housing market conditions and financial insecurity risks in retirement see the number of women affected growing considerably into the future, unless policies and services are transformed to address the needs of this cohort.
The majority of older women experiencing homelessness have not been homeless before and have experienced ‘conventional’ housing histories throughout their life. This means they often don’t identify as being homeless or know where to turn for help. For this reason, the cohort of older women at risk of homelessness is often described as ‘invisible’. Some are starting to refer to themselves as ‘OWLs’ (Older Women Lost in housing).
When you look at the publicly available statistics, 44% of single women over the age of 45 are on low-median incomes, do not own their own home, and are renting. This equates to around 300,000 women. Further, 50% of women approaching retirement age have a superannuation balance of $50,000 or less, compared with 33% of men.
Women who have shared their stories with us tell of lives spent raising children, volunteering in their communities, and often working intermittently in paid employment as well. When they are propelled out of mainstream housing, they often find their own alternatives, renting a room with an acquaintance or sleeping in their cars, for example. Most report that these arrangements feel insecure and unsustainable, leading to poor physical and emotional health including acute anxiety and depression.
SOURCE: Kobi Maglen. “Improving the outcomes for older women at risk of homelessness.” SVA, May 29, 2019.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence acknowledges and recognises the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we live and work, and we pay our respects to their Elders both past and present.
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia