Anglicare Sydney research has found almost 1 in 10 people aged 55 years and over supported through their Emergency Relief program are experiencing insecure housing including sleeping rough, in tents, couch surfing and using their family car as a form of shelter. Another 28% are living in private rental accommodation. A large majority of these older renters (78%) are in rental stress, spending more than 30% of their income on rent.
With high rents and not enough social housing stock, Anglicare fears the frail aged, already marginalised by poverty and failing health, will bear the brunt of Sydney’s housing crisis.
“We are increasingly assisting frail, elderly residents on the verge of eviction, either due to the increase in rent or because the owners have decided to renovate and sell their property. Sometimes whole buildings that provided affordable accommodation are sold for higher returns, pushing many elderly residents to the brink of homelessness,” says Anglicare CEO, Grant Millard.
With less than 4% of our GDP spent on the pension, Australia has the second highest poverty rate for people aged 65 years and over according to the OECD. Older people are also more likely to be in poverty than the general population – 36% compared with 14%.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), of the estimated 256,000 assisted by Specialist Homelessness Services in 2014 – 2015 more than 18,000 were older than 55.
As well as single older women, men between the ages of 60 to 65 are a group of particular concern. Often they will be deemed too old to work, but have yet to reach pension age so are forced onto Newstart.
Before Michael came to Anglicare Sydney’s Thurles Castle, a hostel for older people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness that once was a pub in Chippendale, he was couch surfing and living on the streets. He lost his job in his late 50s and is finding it difficult to regain employment. Now 60, he is living on Newstart and will not be eligible for the pension until he is 66 and six months old.
“I have spent time on the trains and slept on the streets. The hardest thing about living on the street is how dangerous it feels at night. You don’t feel safe at all. So you stay awake as much as possible and try and sleep during the day,” explains Michael.
“I found accommodation at Thurles Castle two and a half years ago and I just love the place. You can be by yourself or mix with others. You also have access to your own amenities. It would make it so much easier for people if more accommodation like Thurles existed.”
According to Mr Millard, “There is a dearth of social housing stock in NSW with many waiting up to 10 years and more for a home. While we are thankful for recent State government initiatives to increase the level of affordable housing stock, we need to do more to help older people in our communities who may be struggling now.”
AHURI also cautiously estimates a lack of 212,000 affordable private rental dwellings for households in the lowest two income quintiles in Australia.
Anglicare is currently raising funds for specialist housing for older people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and is looking to expand its services to provide more accommodation to people who are in similar situations across Sydney.
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