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Services and supports for older Australians at risk of homelessness

With Homelessness Week running from 1 - 7 August, it is an important time to understand homelessness and its impact on older people, as well as where help is available.

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Older people experiencing homelessness are considered to be anyone who has an unstable or inadequate housing situation. [Source: iStock]

Around one in six people aged 55 and older are experiencing homelessness in Australia. Over the last three censuses, the number of older Australians experiencing homelessness has steadily grown.

Older women were found to be the fastest growing group of people experiencing homelessness between the 2011-2016 period. Currently, 240,000 older women over 55 years are at risk of homelessness in Australia.

The 2016 Census, by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found that older people made up 16 percent of the total number of people experiencing homelessness.

What is homelessness?

While you may consider a person homeless if they appear to be living on the street, the definition of homelessness is a bit broader.

People experiencing homelessness are considered to be anyone who has an unstable or inadequate housing situation. For example, if you were living in a home that was run down or didn't have a fixed address, you would be considered to be experiencing homelessness in Australia.

You are also considered to be experiencing homelessness if you don't have suitable accommodation alternatives to the way you are living, for instance, if you are couch surfing, living in a car or living in a caravan without a long term tenancy.

What causes homelessness for older people?

There are many contributors to homelessness in Australia, however, national charity Mission Australia says there are four common factors that result in older people not having a stable housing situation.

Financial instability - Probably the most common reason for homelessness is being financially unstable - which can result in the loss of regular housing. Many older people are already struggling financially with recent inflation likely to impact retirees and pensioners. Older women are also more likely to run out of money due to reduced superannuation (compared to men who have earned more money over their lifetime), part-time work, and age discrimination.

Elder abuse - A form of domestic and family violence, elder abuse is a big cause of homelessness in the country for older people. Elder abuse can appear in a lot of forms, including financial, physical, emotional, sexual or social abuse, or neglect. If people are in a dangerous situation, they may flee their home for their safety and end up without stable housing.

Disability or illness - A sudden disability or illness can lead to an increased risk of housing insecurity and homelessness. An unexpected disability and illness can lead to costs for equipment or medication to manage the illness, which can also cause financial instability. Additionally, a sudden disability or illness may impact your ability to work and make an income that would go towards paying for your accommodation.

Marriage or family breakdowns - Conflict or breakdowns in family relations or marriages can be a big factor for homelessness. If you have a sudden marriage breakdown or get into a bad argument with family, you may find yourself without accommodation or somewhere to live, or experiencing unstable housing. This can also impact you financially and make it difficult to find a new home.

Who can help?

The Federal Government has a number of initiatives in place to ensure older people are protected and not left without accommodation or somewhere to live.

People who are eligible include:

  • Older people aged 50 years or older and are prematurely ageing
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 45 years and older
  • Those on a low income

This person must be experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, to then access aged care services earlier, which will assist in finding accommodation and getting support.

This aged care support is free for you and will be completely covered by the Australian Government.

If you are in need of aged care services, like a nursing home, the Government will assist to find you an appropriate placement in a facility, including potentially moving you into a facility that specialises in care for people who have experienced homelessness.

If you are still relatively mobile and independent - so don’t need full-time care - but do need stable accommodation, there are services available through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP).

The CHSP will be able to link you with providers of secure and stable accommodation for people who are facing challenges finding somewhere to live or have insecure housing.

Once your housing is more stable, the Government and your new provider will help link you to services that will assist you at home or in your community.

You can find out more on the My Aged Care website or call on 1800 200 422.

If you have very low income, you may be able to access housing assistance through your State or Territory public housing authority.

In public housing, you will likely need to pay rent at a reduced rate and there are other rules and regulations you need to follow to continue to live there.

Additionally, each State and Territory has individual charitable services that provide support, housing and information services to people experiencing homelessness. If you need assistance or services, contact your local homelessness service.

Other helpful services for each State and Territory can be found on the Homelessness Australia website.

Engaging with these services can help you to start rebuilding your life and finding adequate accommodation.

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