Older Women at Risk of Homelessness: A Solution

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Story provided by Social Ventures Australia

Older single women are the fastest growing cohort of people experiencing homelessness in Australia. Most have not been homeless before and have experienced ‘conventional’ housing histories throughout their life.

Women who have shared their stories with us tell of lives spent raising children, volunteering in their communities, and often working intermittently in paid employment. When they are propelled out of mainstream housing due to a change in circumstances (for example the loss of a job, relationship breakdown or the onset of illness), they often find their own alternatives, like renting a room with an acquaintance or sleeping in their cars. Often, they don’t identify as being homeless or know where to turn for help.

When you look at the statistics, the risk factors are very clear. 44% of single women over the age of 45 are on low-median incomes, do not own their own home, and are renting. This equates to around 300,000 women. Further, 50% of women approaching retirement age have a superannuation balance of $50,000 or less.

Projections based on current housing market conditions and financial insecurity risks in retirement see the number of women at risk of homelessness growing considerably into the future.

This will only change if policies and services are transformed to address the needs of this cohort.

Social Ventures Australia (SVA) has worked in partnership with organisations and leaders across the government, corporate and social purpose sectors for over 15 years to bring innovative solutions to pressing social challenges.

Through this experience we’ve seen that approaches that address the multiple, interconnected contributors to experiences of disadvantage, and galvanise effective action across the social ecosystem, often have the greatest capacity for impact. To design these kinds of solutions, we must first understand the underlying drivers of an issue, which are complex and multifaceted.

In the case of older women experiencing or at risk of homelessness, a primary root cause is structural gender inequality; with low paid work, or time taken out of the formal workforce to focus on caring responsibilities, translating to low superannuation balances at retirement age. Coupled with the high cost of housing, declining home ownership, and decades of under-investment in social and affordable housing, risk factors for older women become a perfect storm.

SVA understands the drivers of better outcomes to be increased financial well-being, appropriate support services, and increased availability of appropriate and affordable housing – all underpinned by a necessary shift in gender norms.

Over the past year we’ve been reaching out to people across sectors to understand where policy and service delivery in these areas is ripe for change, and where SVA could make a unique and significant contribution in these areas.

Transforming existing systems isn’t easy, though, and the work SVA does is only possible through the generous support of our many partners, collaborators and donors.

If you’d like to hear more about SVA, and how you could get involved in supporting transformative change for older women at risk of homelessness, please contact Neha Broota at nbroota@socialventures.com.au.

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