The number of women aged 55 and over who experience homelessness in Australia has grown by 31% between 2011 and 2016. This trend is expected to continue unless social housing provision is expanded, given the gap in men’s and women’s lifetime wealth accumulation.
“Current resourcing for people who become homelessness is inadequate and the funding under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with states falls short in addressing the housing affordability crisis or gender responsive service requirements,” Dr Bullen said.
According to Bullen, the primary causes of women’s homelessness are violence, women’s income inequality, their relative poverty and unaffordable rentals.
“Women and children who have experienced family violence or relationship breakdown are the largest single group of people presenting at homelessness services,” she said.
While initiatives that help those who are sleeping rough are important, only 7% of people experiencing homelessness are identified as sleeping rough.
Often, women experiencing homelessness attempt to hide their homelessness and manage it themselves, by moving between the houses of family and friends. They may end up staying in severely overcrowded or unsafe dwellings, sleeping in a car or outside in concealed locations.
“This invisibility means that they may lack basic survival resources and their homelessness may be prolonged, with adverse physical and mental health impacts.”
“At the same time, the number of women presenting homeless to services nationally has recently overtaken the number of men, and women are two thirds of those turned away from homelessness services.”
Dr Bullen condemns the lack of affordable rental housing and the long wait lists for social housing (currently almost 200,000 nationally). She says the woeful Newstart allowance means that more women of all ages are likely to be tipped into homelessness because of their already precarious financial and personal circumstances.
The need to start treating the problem of homelessness as a national emergency has never been more urgent.
Women’s Electoral Lobby is calling for additional social and affordable housing targeted to women including women with children fleeing domestic violence, older women, single women, single mothers and women with disabilities.
Additional emergency accommodation including specialist domestic violence refuges to meet the needs of women across Australia is also a priority.