Couch surfing among older women has almost doubled over the past four years and there has been a similar rise in the number of older women sleeping in cars, a report by Homelessness Australia has found.
As a result of women bringing up children and being in and out of the workforce, an unexpected crisis can leave them homeless, CEO Jenny Smith said.
“The loss of a relationship, not sufficient superannuation to fall back on as an individual and not owning your home getting towards the point of retirement … your income has no chance paying for a rental in the current environment,” Ms Smith said.
Homelessness Australia estimates there are now 280,000 homeless people in Australia, or around one in every 85 people.
Ms Smith said 70,000 people had to be turned away when they asked for help last year.
“How could it not be increasing? We have none of the policy settings in place at a federal level,” she said.
“We do not have an affordable housing strategy, we do not have any increase in support going to homelessness services.
“On the contrary, it’s a reduction.”
‘Taking a bed wherever I could’
Talie Star told the ABC that homelessness can happen to anyone, and in her case she had fled domestic violence.
“I ended up living in different people’s houses — people I didn’t know,” she said.
“Taking a bed wherever I could get one. One of my friend’s little girls gave up her bed for me and slept on a mattress so that I could have somewhere to live.”
She counts herself as one of the lucky ones.
“I have relatively stable housing now, still problems that have to be worked through, still systemic things to have to navigate but it’s so much better being able to at least know where I’m going to put my head down at night,” Ms Star said.
‘There’s safety here’
An initiative known as Common Ground or Housing First is proving successful — it offers long-term accommodation and intensive support for people with issues including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and mental health.
In Hobart, Jo Robinson had been homeless for almost seven years before being housed at Common Ground.
“I had nowhere to go. I ended up in a place where I was sharing a room with another woman, I needed somewhere to live,” she said.
“I was a drug addict, I was a prostitute, I was involved in a lot of things I didn’t want to be involved in.
“I needed something that was going to give me safety and security.”
She describes her new home at Common Ground as “a wonderful community”.
“It’s a positive community and there’s safety here and that’s a really big thing for me,” she said.
“And being able to go and talk to people upstairs if I need to.”
A first real home
Mission Australia runs Common Ground in Sydney which is one of 12 apartment blocks in the country.
Catherine Yeomans, the CEO of Mission Australia, told the ABC it is an evidence-based model that “we know works”.
“We need more sites like this,” she said.
At 39 years old, Cheryl Colvett said she had been homeless “pretty much all her life” and her Common Ground studio apartment was her “first real home”.
“At first it was a bit strange because ‘oh ok I’ve got a room what do I do now’ because I’m used to being homeless on the street, sleeping on the street at night in storms and stuff.”
Now she has two cats, Georgie Boy and Lucy, and a bed covered with the soft toys she never had as a child.
This piece was first seen on ‘ABC News’ 8 Aug, 2017.