While property prices remain high and women face additional challenges to wealth accumulation, the number of older women at risk of homelessness will continue to rise, warns Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson.
“We have an ageing population, a high cost of housing and significant variations in wealth accumulation between men and women across their lifetimes,” Dr Patterson told the Property Council Retirement Forum on Wednesday 10 October.
“Without action, the number of homeless women will continue to rise.”
In five years the number of older woman experiencing homelessness has increased by 31 per cent to close to 7,000 in 2016, Census data shows. In 2016-17 more than 13,000 women accessed specialist homelessness services nearly 20,000 times.
Homelessness Australia last year reported the number of older women ‘couch surfing’ increased 83 per cent and the number of older women sleeping in cars rose 75 per cent in four years.
“Each statistic represents a woman across Australia who does not have the safety or security of a home,” Dr Patterson said. “We know that due to the hidden nature of older women’s homelessness that these statistics don’t account for all of these women.
“Homelessness and the risk of being homeless can have a devastating impact on older women, affecting every facet of their lives from their physical and mental health to their safety and their capacity to keep or find work.”
Dr Patterson challenged the property sector to help drive solutions.
“For the many women who are working and renting later in life but have insufficient funds to buy their own home – the moment they cannot work, and pay their rent they may be homeless,” Dr Patterson said.
“We must be proactive to find more housing solutions to support women before their situation becomes precarious. There are a range of opportunities—from shared equity models, to group housing, and ethical investment frameworks—which can help.
“I challenge the industry to help find creative ways to support older women into full or part homeownership or affordable rental accommodation, to sustain their long-term housing and financial security."