Home to an ageing population and declining home ownership, a new report forecasts further growth rates in homelessness among older Australians.
The number of homeless Australians aged over 65 jumped by 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016, reveals the AHURI research.
“Poverty is a root cause of homelessness,” professor Andrew Beer of the University of South Australia said.
“Having a lower income than needed to sustain a decent, healthy and secure life creates a marginal position in the housing market that can result in the loss of safe, affordable accommodation.”
Australia is home to more than 1500 homelessness services, but the report notes that only three are specialist services for older people.
While one in every seven Australians experiencing homelessness is aged 55 years or over, up to 32 per cent of Australians over 55 years old live on less than $400 personal weekly income, what OECD defines as the poverty line.
The report, undertaken by researchers from University of South Australia and Swinburne University of Technology, noted that life ‘shocks’ later in life such as the death of a spouse, relationship breakdown or a decline in health are key reasons older people become homeless, as well as those with transient work and housing histories.
“These life shocks lead many older Australians into homelessness, and into contact with the income support system for the first time,” Beer said.
“When homelessness is experienced for the first time later in life, people commonly have limited knowledge of welfare and homelessness services.
“For some, learning to deal with Centrelink and its policies and processes is an additional challenge that exacerbates the grief and shame of finding themselves without a secure home.”
Rental market for pensioners
COTA Australia, the peak policy development and advocacy organisation for older Australians, has called for an increase in rent assistance for pensioners along with further investment in social housing.
“Older renters in Australia are among the most impacted by the lack of affordable and appropriate housing because they are living on a fixed income with limited earning potential and are entirely at the mercy of market forces and rental instability,” COTA Australia Chief Exec Ian Yates said.
“Not only do older renters tend to have higher healthcare costs, they need to be close to their communities, transport and services to stay healthy and connected.”
Yates says the maximum rent assistance should be increased by 40 per cent.
The 2019 Rental Affordability index found no region in Australia affordable for single pensioners and affordable rents for pensioner couples available in only two states,
The index shows that single pensioners living in metropolitan areas, home to the majority of one-bedroom homes, are paying more than 50 per cent of their income on rent.
It also shows that a single aged pensioner living in Sydney is paying up to 88 per cent of their income.
Pensioner couples fare slightly better, notes the report, with regional Tasmania and South Australia offering some areas with acceptable rents, 20-25 per cent of their income.