Women’s homelessness can be easier to ignore because they’re less likely to be sleeping on the street, but the effects of homelessness are damaging and lasting, no matter what form it takes. Couchsurfing, cycling through shelters, staying in cheap motels, and living in poverty in the private rental market are all common experiences of women’s homelessness.
Women are more likely to be at risk of homelessness because of inherent financial disadvantage, the fact they’re more likely to be in casual and low-paid employment, that they have lower super and savings due to time out of the workforce caring for children, and the compounding effect of family violence, which continues to be a major driver of homelessness.
Older women and homelessness
Older women’s homelessness is becoming an increasing problem. Although women over 55 represent the smallest number of people who come to our services, worryingly they are the most rapidly growing group. Last year, we released data that showed that the number of women over 55 who were couchsurfing had doubled in four years.
Single mothers and homelessness
Women with children are also struggling, as private rental market proves increasingly inaccessible. A mother on single parenting payments looking for a two-bedroom rental in Melbourne has just 3-in-100 properties which she could afford (DHS, Rent Report, 2017).
Indigenous Australian women and homelessness
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are over-represented in the homelessness population. One in four women presenting at homelessness services are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. This is far greater than the population rate of one in 36 women being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
Homelessness is an indication that broader social supports and service systems are failing. Centrelink incomes are pitififully low, rents are too high and our social housing levels are going backwards.
The solution to women’s homelessness, as with all homelessness, is more safe, affordable, permanent housing. For many women, and increasingly for older women, homelessness is simply a case of their income not being sufficient to pay the rent. Boosting the supply of social and affordable housing is critical to solving women’s homelessness.
We need more programs that use rapid rehousing to make women’s experience of homelessness as short as possible. Rapid rehousing is particularly effective when applied to families whose homelessness is purely due to economics and have previously maintained successful tenancies.
Early intervention is also critical in preventing homelessness among women, and identifying tipping points is part of that process. Helping women stay in private rental paying back rent arrears due to life crises such as a relationship breakdown or job loss is an effective way to prevent homelessness among women. In our State Budget Submission, CHP has proposed a program that builds relationships with real estate agents to encourage them to notify homelessness services if a tenant is at risk of eviction.