Homelessness for older women – the hidden crisis

5th Annual Rosalie Rendu Lecture ‘The Changing Face of Poverty’ on 20 October 2016.
More and more Australians are experiencing homelessness but the fastest-growing group is older women. Image: Franck Michel.

During Anti-Poverty Week (16-22 October 2016) the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW is bringing together a group of experts to tackle the growing crisis of homelessness facing older women as part of its annual Rosalie Rendu Lecture. It will be held on Thursday 20 October 2016 from 6pm-7.30pm at the Wesley Conference Centre, 220 Pitt Street, Sydney.

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 are joining panel and audience discussions to offer their insights into the plight facing older women.

Blessed Rosalie Rendu. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Blessed Rosalie Rendu. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The lecture honours Blessed Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity who was a leading worker and social organiser to assist people in the slums of 19th Century Paris.

Increasing numbers of Australians are experiencing homelessness but the fastest-growing group is older women, at a rate more than double that of women in the UK*. The majority of older women experience homelessness following separation, widowhood or domestic violence. These experiences also mean that women are more likely to experience poverty than men (15% compared to 13%).

Jack de Groot, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, said many women spent long periods of time without regular employment while raising their children. “As a result, they have much less superannuation to draw on,” he said. “They are 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 heads.”

Most of these older women have never received Centrelink benefits before, so this process is difficult for them, made a lot harder because they experience a loss of dignity. When they finally reach out for help there are fewer targeted services available, leaving them to fall through the cracks. Gaining access to social housing is difficult for older women because they are rarely given priority status.

Denis Walsh, President St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, said there was a vacuum of information and research on the issues facing older women and homelessness. “This year’s Rosalie Rendu Lecture is providing a platform for all of us in the social welfare and housing sectors to address this knowledge gap and begin formulating solutions,” he said.

“Vinnies has developed a comprehensive ‘Right to Home’ campaign to address issues around housing affordability. We will be launching a petition on Thursday night calling on the NSW Government to change planning laws so that at least 15% of new residential developments are set aside for affordable housing.

“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. So we are encouraging our members to sign it and take it to their local communities.”

For more information and to download a copy of the petition, click here.

Our Lady of the Way support for women

In Western Sydney, Vinnies operates Our Lady of the Way, a supported crisis accommodation service for single women aged over 55 years. Support staff are onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Women are supported to improve their quality of life and personal circumstances. The service provides temporary crisis accommodation and mid-term refuge. In addition to supporting women to find suitable permanent accommodation, staff provide help with living skills, financial management, advocacy, legal rights, court support, welfare, community networks and referrals to community and government agencies on a case-by-case basis.

The office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Email: olow@vinnies.org.au

For further information, click here.

*59% of Australians seeking help from homelessness services are women, significantly higher than 26% in the UK and 38% in the US. In Australia, 36% of these women have been affected by domestic violence and give this as the number one reason why they seek support from Vinnies and other specialist homelessness services.

Source: St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.

Main image: Franck Michel.

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