'Perfect storm' forces Aussies over 55 into homelessness

There is a “perfect storm” brewing for Australians over 55 that could see them facing homelessness.

“Australia’s ageing population is expected to double between 2010 and 2050,” cautioned Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey.

“There is a severe shortage of social and affordable housing, growing levels of housing stress and, of course, ongoing pandemic challenges. This has created a perfect storm which is causing more people over the age of 55 to be forced into homelessness.”

According to the most recent 2016 ABS data, there are 116,000 people experiencing homelessness across the nation. One in six of those are over 55 years old – an increase of 21 per cent from 2011 census data. Mission Australia expects a further increase when this year’s census data is collected.

“The dreadful combination of a number of factors – including a severe shortage of social housing and affordable rentals, abysmally low rate of JobSeeker and other income support payments and a lack of secure, ongoing employment options – is leading to an increase in housing insecurity and homelessness, including for our older Australians,” Toomey said.

“These challenges and increased isolation have caused great financial and emotional pressure for many of our older Australians.

“Older people who are homeless are mostly unseen. The majority aren’t sleeping rough in plain sight on the footpath. They’re more likely to be facing hidden homelessness. They’re living in unsafe or insecure living conditions like a car, temporary accommodation, a garage or they could be couch surfing.”

“Older women in particular can be at major risk of later-in-life homelessness” – James Toomey, CEO, Mission Australia

One group of over 55-year-olds is especially at risk – women. “[This is] due to factors such as low retirement savings and superannuation and the high costs of housing. Alongside the pressures of the pandemic, these can leave older women more vulnerable to life shocks such as sudden illness, job loss, domestic violence, or when they are widowed,” Toomey explained.

Based on a real person, the plight of an older woman facing homelessness features strongly in the organisation’s annual winter appeal. In a new ad, we meet 67-year-old Carol. Her husband passed away unexpectedly and Carol is unable to pay the mortgage. With high rent prices and not enough superannuation, lonely and grieving Carol loses her home and ends up sleeping in the spare room of her local pub.

Mission Australia says there are currently more than 6,000 women in Australia who are in a similar position to Carol. Toomey hopes Australians will open their hearts to respond, including supporting early intervention programs, case management, and specialised support for older people with mental health concerns.

Toomey told Eternity that he would also love to Australian Christians to be praying. “The past year has been challenging for everyone. But for many vulnerable older people and older women in particular, the experience of facing economic uncertainty, homelessness or a health crisis on their own will be just as challenging this year,” Toomey said. “Without prayers and donations and company from people in our community and our churches, winter will be an unbearably lonely time for many.”

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

He quoted Psalm 34.18 – “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted” – saying he hoped people of faith respond with action, so those battling loneliness, homelessness and grief this winter would see their prayers for help answered.

Mission Australia has called upon the Australian government and private investors to provide more housing for older Australians, saying it should be “affordable, accessible and suitable to their needs and allows people to live and age in their communities where they feel safe, connected and supported”.