The demand for housing and homelessness services from vulnerable older people in Australia continues to rise. In 2019 - 2020, over 24,000 people aged 55 years and over received services from specialist homelessness support agencies.
The widespread housing crisis in Australia, coupled with cost-of-living pressures is impacting their ability to access much-needed accommodation, services, medicines and food.
In the last Rental Affordability Snapshot released by Anglicare Australia, less than one per cent of properties were affordable to someone living on an aged pension. Every year, Anglicare Australia surveys rental listings across Australia to see what it is like for people on low incomes to rent a home. This year has been the worst rate measured since 2018, with an overall 25 per cent decrease in the number of property rental listings from last year in the Greater Sydney region. In the Illawarra only one single property was found to be affordable and appropriate for an aged pensioner during the snapshot weekend.
The findings of reports like this show just how difficult it is for people living on low incomes to find appropriate and affordable rental accommodation, with the situation particularly difficult for single people living on an income support payment.
Older Australians on low income, who don't own a home are increasingly relying on private rental housing. Traditionally, older people have had high rates of home ownership, a key financial asset upon retirement. However in more recent years, the rate of home ownership among older people has decreased, as it has across the broader population.
As a result a growing number of older Australians are facing precarious housing situations as they age. For some, the cost and quality of housing is forcing many into either homelessness or prematurely into residential aged care.
The Australian Government National Housing and Homelessness Plan aims to build 30,000 social and affordable dwellings in the first five years of a 10-year plan, and is funded by the Housing Australia Future Fund.
A Housing Accord, as part of this plan, will seek to supply this additional housing in cooperation with state governments and other bodies. The accord will come into effect in another two years, and therefore will not immediately address the current shortfall of social and affordable housing.
The NSW Government also has a long-term plan to increase the supply of social and affordable housing via a number of initiatives including Communities Plus and the Social and Affordable Housing Fund.
In the meantime, a patchwork of purpose-driven organisations are continuing to do what they can for the growing number of people in our communities who are at risk of, or already experiencing homelessness.
On the 2021 Census night, over 122,000 people were estimated to be experiencing homelessness. Almost 20,000 were aged 55 years and over, representing one in seven people experiencing homelessness at the time of Census. Keep in mind that the Census doesn't accurately capture people who are homeless and may be sleeping rough - undoubtedly many go uncounted.
Homelessness affects more people than those we see sleeping in doorways, alongside buildings or on park benches. There are many different types of homelessness, and the majority of people experiencing it are hidden from view. They are living invisibly, almost completely ignored by society.
Chances are they could be a respected colleague or friend, living out of their car or caravan. They could be a former neighbour, who's in and out of crisis accommodation. They could even be a family member, who is couch surfing between friends' or strangers' homes. The scary thing is there are only one or two life circumstances that can take any of us from having everything, to having next-to-nothing. A lost job. A relationship breakdown. A serious illness. It can happen to any of us and all it can take is a run of bad luck.
Homelessness is at crisis point in this country. Research by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute estimates 440,000 older households in Australia will be without suitable housing by 2031.
It's going to take more than any one organisation or government body to solve the many complex challenges that lead to and sustain the cycle of housing insecurity and homelessness.
Supporting local organisations doing great things for people at risk of or already experiencing homelessness in our own communities is one way to help make a difference right now. Wollongong Homeless Hub, Wollongong Emergency Housing and Supported Accommodation & Homelessness Services Shoalhaven Illawarra are just a few. Age Matters, an initiative of IRT Group, is another and specialises in helping vulnerable older people at risk of homelessness.
Age Matters is hosting a comedy night fundraiser with the help of Wollongong Comedy on November 24, 2023 in The Basement of the Builders Club Wollongong. The night will bring people and businesses together from across the Illawarra to raise funds that will help tackle the growing homelessness crisis faced by disadvantaged older people in our own neighbourhoods. Tickets go on sale soon, follow Age Matters on Facebook for details AgeMattersAus.
If you'd like to learn more about how you can contribute to the fight against homelessness in your own backyard visit irt.org.au/about/age-matters/
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