Increasing concern for elderly at risk of homelessness

Young people in Australia are the highest group represented in homelessness statistics – but the rate is increasing alarmingly among older people. 

The rate of homelessness in Australia has increased by 14 per cent from 2011 to 2016 for people aged 55 to 64 and by seven per cent for people aged 65 to 74, according to 2016 Census data. And welfare organisation staff say it is a statistic that is reflected in Ballarat. 

Centacare Ballarat manager of NDIS, homelessness and advocacy, Virginia Louey, said staff were seeing more elderly people experiencing homelessness for the first time. 

“We worked with a couple in their 70s who had been living in a rental property for some years. The rent was put up and their benefits didn’t go up as much as the rental, so they were then suddenly in a position that although they had been long term tenants, they couldn’t afford to pay their rent as well as their medication and their food and their bills.

“There was real difficulty getting something suitable where their combined pension would be enough to compete in the private rental market.”

Homelessness Australia sites a variety of complex reasons pushing older people into homelessness, including a lack of affordable housing, the declining rate of home ownership, difficulty living on the government pension, death of a spouse (resulting in reduced income), financial crisis, or age and gender discrimination in the workforce.

Ms Louey said so many elderly people struggled to pay rent and living costs from their pension – which was predicated on recipients being debt free and owning their own home.

After paying rent she had $20 a fortnight to live on.

Virginia Louey, Centacare Ballarat

Women in particular who have taken time out of the workforce to care for children or may have worked part time may also struggle with limited superannuation. 

“We need to increase how much rent assistance people are given if they are going to continue living in the private sector,” Ms Louey said. 

“I worked with an older couple who lived in private rental, were managing quite well on their combined pension, but the husband unfortunately got dementia, and he had to move into a nursing home.

“They were both in their 80s and the wife was unable to continue looking after him. When he moved into the nursing home she was then living on her benefit solely. After paying rent she had $20 a fortnight to live on.

“That’s not an unusual story... That situation is not her fault.”