Running from 6-12 August, the national awareness week, coordinated by Homelessness Australia, focuses on raising awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed to achieve enduring solutions.
Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) has been at the helm of conversation around homelessness and affordable housing for older Australians, with the organisation supporting the awareness week and what it stands for.
HAAG Executive Officer Fiona York says the awareness week offers organisations like HAAG an opportunity to talk about ‘hidden homelessness’.
“There are increasing numbers of older people not in secure housing and this is a time for us to reiterate how important it is to have specialised support for older people,” Ms York explains.
“The stereotype that older people all own their own homes is how the aged care system is set up.
“We are finding increasingly that this is not the case.
Ms York says the older population is one of the age groups that, in one recent Census, recorded a big jump in numbers.
She also highlights that older women are even more at risk.
“According to the statistics, those aged 65 and over on a pension and living in private rental are at risk of homelessness - which is pretty terrifying,” she explains.
“People are retiring with mortgages… all these trends are pointing to a crisis for older people in the coming years.”
She says the nation’s ageing population, rental market and its issues are among some of the main causes of homelessness among older Australians.
“It’s not often that the ‘rough sleepers’ are the people who come to us, it’s those living in unaffordable private rental, relying on friends and family, couch surfing or living through housing stress,” she explains.
“There are a whole range of factors as to why older people are homeless or at risk of homelessness, but the biggest thing is that there has been no investment over the last 20 years into affordable housing and, without increased Government support, the issue will probably continue.”
Council on the Ageing (COTA) South Australia Chief Executive Jane Mussared has also made comment on the issue of housing for older South Australians in particular, highlighting data in the 2017 Ageing on the Edge project’s Finding a Suitable Home for Older People at Risk of Homelessness in SA report, which shows many older South Australians are concerned about housing and homelessness.
“The report highlights the very real and alarming statistic that more than 4,900 people aged over 65 in both metropolitan and regional areas are under significant housing stress right now,” Ms Mussared says.
“Access to affordable, safe and appropriate housing is one of the most pressing issues causing financial and psychological stress for an emerging group of older South Australians.
“As stated in the report, in many local Government areas, there has been at least a 50 percent increase in the number of people in financial housing stress, and the rate of people affected will increase very fast as our population ages and the supply of affordable and secure rental accommodation diminishes.”
While COTA SA called for increased support for older people at risk of homelessness during the State Budget Submissions in June, HAAG is hoping that Homelessness Awareness Week will be the time the Federal Government makes change and improvement.
“We would love to see commitment from Government for change,” Ms York says.
“All the research is saying that we need to build at least 50,000 affordable property now to cope.
“The more people that are aware and can put pressure on politicians, the more likely we are to be able to solve this problem.”
Ms York refers to an ongoing initiative - the Everybody’s Home campaign - which has brought together different agencies all working and calling for solutions to the issue of affordable housing for all Australians.
“Something like this awareness week is a good chance for people to start talking about this issue,” she says.
“The more people who talk about it the better which is why it's good to have awareness weeks.”