Older, homeless people - most vulnerable but often overlooked

Homeless older people are often overlooked in service provision despite being some of the most vulnerable in terms of housing security, according to HammondCare’s submission to the City of Sydney’s Housing Issues Paper.

The submission, “Homelessness amongst older people” argues that housing affordability is one of the most significant causes of homelessness for older people in inner Sydney, due to the combination of low, fixed incomes and high health costs.

The submission says older people make up a significant proportion of the estimated 3,300 homeless people living in inner Sydney. The 2011 Census estimated that around 14 per cent of the national homeless population were over the age of 55.

The submission says more residential aged care services for older people are needed in inner Sydney that provide both long term accommodation as well as care.

“Older homeless people require fundamentally different service models to homeless people generally; services which respond to the specific needs and challenges of the older person.”

Housing affordability must be addressed

HammondCare argues that changes in the housing market and housing management practices are linked to homelessness among older people, because their limited and fixed incomes are unable to keep up with rapid or sudden increases in housing costs.

The number of older people in the private rental market is projected to increase by 115 per cent by 2026. Weekly median rents in Sydney will exceed 30 per cent of the maximum age pension for a single person – even with rent assistance - showing housing affordability is a major factor.

“Based on this data, housing affordability is clearly an issue for older people in Sydney and it is crucial that they are considered in any efforts to address the housing crisis. These efforts should include an examination by all levels of Government as to how policy, legislative and planning arrangements affect housing prices and the availability of affordable rental accommodation for low-income and vulnerable groups in Sydney.”

The submission says there has been a significant increase in the number of older people requiring social housing in recent years and it is projected that by 2021, older people will be the largest group of people in need of social housing – making up over a third of demand in NSW.

It recommends that all future social housing, construction, improvements and developments be designed with older people in mind, and adhere to the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines which outline the key features needed to make homes accessible for the aged, like ease of entry with level and wider doors and halls, and safe spaces to move around.

It also argues that while Federal Government reforms have been implemented to help older people stay at home for longer, this is undermined for older people in the private rental market by tenancy laws that don’t provide security of tenure. These laws also restrict the ability to make suitable design modifications and leave people susceptible to short-term rent increases.

The submission recommends the NSW Government consider updating tenancy legislation to reflect a shift in the housing market toward longer-term renting and to level the playing field between landlords and vulnerable tenants.

Number of homeless women growing rapidly

HammondCare says that women make up one of the fastest growing groups of older, homeless people in inner Sydney and that their numbers are higher than official counts because many “couch-surf” with family or friends rather than stay in supported accommodation.

Older women experience homelessness differently to men, and the cause is more likely to be a one-off event than long term homelessness. The main causes of homelessness for older women are a lack of physical and financial security, with family violence also a significant factor.

HammondCare argues that safe and affordable housing options for older women are needed to address the growing number of women experiencing homelessness for the first time in later life. It also argues that the unique experience of homeless women should be considered in all measures aimed at addressing housing affordability.

The submission is in response to the City of Sydney Housing Issues Paper which will be used, along with research, to develop the City of Sydney Housing Policy.

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