Older WA Women Increasingly at Risk of Homelessness

Older women in Western Australia have emerged as a new group increasingly at risk of homelessness.

This week is Homeless Persons’ Week which aims to raise awareness of homelessness and the people it affects as well as celebrate the work that organisations and individuals do to help those experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.Older women who find themselves out of the workforce and do not own their own home in Western Australia have emerged as a new group increasingly at risk of homelessness.

The Australian research to date highlights the interaction between poverty, violence, gender and homelessness. Older single women are vulnerable to homelessness due to a range of circumstances including economic disadvantage related to low income and lack of savings, lack of equity in housing and the high cost of private rental accommodation and home ownership.

Homeless women aged 45 and older have experienced multiple disadvantages in their lives, balancing abusive relationships, poor health and economic insecurity. Most had remained independent and working. Many had also brought up children. However, as women living alone in their fifties and sixties they became susceptible to a crisis which put their job at risk, namely a health crisis or age discrimination at work. As women retire or lose their jobs, many suffer from not having worked full time or accessed superannuation all their lives. Many women have worked part time which means they haven’t been eligible for superannuation for their entire career and if they’ve been working part time, they’ve often been under the threshold for compulsory super. Furthermore, a 27 per cent gender wage gap in WA means that women’s nest eggs are usually smaller than men’s.

As such women who are older and living alone will be poorer than men their age, less able to maintain homeownership, and less able to compete in the private rental market for affordable accommodation. These women are at risk of homelessness, largely as a result of the entrenched social and economic advantage that continues to separate the experiences of women and men.

Homeless women are clear in their suggestions for overcoming their circumstances, emphasising the need for affordable and safe housing. In this respect the WA government plans to deliver 20,000 affordable homes by 2020 through its Affordable Housing Strategy. However, the Affordable Housing Strategy is out of reach for most homeless people, placing growing pressure on welfare groups for these services. These groups are reliant on charitable donations and corporate support due to a lack of government funding.

Click here for information on how you can get involved with Homeless Week.

One of our guest panellists for the Half the Sky screening on 12 August, Conrad Liveris, runs Street Smugglers, a WA based non-profit organisation with a vision for a world where homelessness is not the only option. Find out more here.

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