The plight of older renters

The number of homeless Australians aged 65 and over has grown from 25 in 10,000 people to 27, according to Census figures; and during this year’s national Homelessness Week there are renewed pleas to raise government assistance by at least $75 a week and crack down on unscrupulous landlords.

Salvation Army officer Major Paul Moulds says all governments must work together to develop a comprehensive long-term plan to tackle poverty and homelessness in Australia.

“An increase of welfare payments by a minimum of $75 per week to ensure that those reliant on government assistance can live with dignity, addressing the causes of cost of living pressures, and the development of a nationally coordinated homelessness and housing affordability strategy would make an enormous difference,” Major Moulds says.

He said that in the past five years the Salvation Army had experienced a 40 per cent increase in the number of people accessing financial counselling.

A review of data on client needs had found that Australians aged 65 or older were the most rapidly growing group needing the charity’s assistance and that more than 60 per cent of people who accessed the Salvos’ Moneycare financial counselling service were women.

One quarter of the Salvos’ clients were experiencing extreme housing stress, paying 70 per cent of their income towards housing, he said.

Homelessness Australia says that on any given night, one in 200 people are homeless, and has given this year’s Homelessness Week the slogan ‘Housing Ends Homelessness’.

Dr Emma Power, senior research fellow in geography and urban studies at the Western Sydney University, recently wrote in The Conversation that the lack of appropriate and affordable rental accommodation was a key contributor to homelessness and that older women were particularly vulnerable. “It is getting harder for older renters to find adequate, appropriate and secure housing – with older women particularly at risk,” she wrote.

She attributed this to longer life expectancy, lower incomes and less access to benefits such as superannuation.

“Rising rents were a problem for nearly all women I spoke with. They depleted women’s budgets, leaving little money to buy food or pay for utilities. Many relied on local charities for food and help to pay energy bills.

“One woman described how she would add protein to her meal by buying a single chicken breast, slicing it thinly and freezing each piece separately to be defrosted over the next week or so. Another relied on vegetables the local greengrocer bundled and discounted before throwing out.

“In winter, when heating bills mounted, she relied on a local church with a weekly food pantry. This food, donated by local supermarkets and community members, was frequently past its ‘best before’ date.”

Dr Power said such research showed the need to rethink how society values and regulates private rental housing.

“It is time that we recognise the fundamental role that housing plays in our ability to meet basic needs – for shelter, warmth, food and, above all, a sense of security and home.

“When housing is too expensive, unsafe or inadequate, our capacity to meet our care needs deteriorates and our health suffers. For women in my research, their capacity to age in place – and even to remain housed – was challenged.”

Dr Power said restrictions on the number of rent increases in a year were essential, as were minimum housing standards and an end to no grounds evictions, which left many renters afraid to ask for repairs. “They lived in unhealthy and unsafe housing rather than risk eviction in a market with few affordable options,” she said.

For Homelessness Week events and activities in your region, go here.

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Written by Janelle Ward

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