THOUSANDS of older Victorians are constantly on the edge of homelessness and struggle to cope with day-to-day living.
Among them are increasing numbers of women aged 55 and over, on a fixed income and living in private rental accommodation. There is a housing crisis but, according to Housing for the Aged Action Group co-manager Fiona York, governments don’t see it.
“There’s been no increase in public housing for a long time – we urgently need to invest in public housing for people over 55,” she said. The group recently launched a landmark report based on data from the first two years of its Home at Last service, which revealed that 52 per cent of its clients were in trouble in the private rental market.
This was often due to impending evictions or rent increases – 26 per cent had already been evicted. Ninety per cent of clients spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. For 38 per cent of them, rent accounts for more than 60 per cent of their income.
Sixty per cent of Home at Last clients are women and 44 per cent come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.
Ms York said the figures came as a surprise, even though the service has been overwhelmed.
It is one of only two specialist older persons homelessness services in Australia. “We can see a trend emerging over the past two years,” she said.
“The picture we’re seeing is one of the working poor – those who have a lifetime of low wages who could never really get ahead.
“Sixty per cent of people through our service are women. They’ve had lower incomes, low superannuation – many were out of the workforce for years.”
Most clients have lived conventional lives, working and raising families, but have become part of a growing group of older people who have not attained home ownership for reasons, including low wages, illness and family changes.
“For anyone living on the age pension, a rent rise or eviction can be the tipping point to a downward spiral into couch surfing, sleeping in cars and on the streets,” Ms York said.
Over the past two years Home at Last has provided information and referral to more than 2111 people and found long-term affordable housing for more than 312.
It also helps people move and set up homes, assists with tenancy issues and advice on retirement housing.
To contact Home at Last, phone 1300-765-178 from 10am-4pm Monday to Friday, www.oldertenants.org.au