Ageing homeless population set to soar as property prices bite

This article by Christopher Knaus (The Guardian 15 November 2017) is a damning piece about how older Australian are being treated by the Australian government. The number finding themselves sleeping in the street is growing.

Mission Australia calls for 60,000 additional social housing dwellings to be built for older people

Henry Wilson, 73, slept rough at Sydney’s Central Station for several months. Homelessness is growing among older Australians, experts warn.

Not long ago, Henry Wilson, 73, could count his worldly possessions on both hands.

He was sleeping rough at Sydney’s Central Station. With him, he had just a sleeping bag, shoes, joggers, socks, pants and a jacket.

Wilson didn’t drink. He didn’t gamble. He was simply forced to leave a toxic living environment, and was rendered homeless by Sydney’s stratospheric property prices.

Wilson spent several months on the streets. He remembers the passersby that turned their noses up. He could hear them mutter under their breath.

“It was hard, but I just sort of took it, and moved on,” he said.

Wilson remembers going to sleep in a state of hypervigilance, always ready for an unpredictable threat or opportunistic theft. One night, he let his guard down. He was assaulted and robbed of his meagre possessions.

“You were fighting to go to sleep because you didn’t know what was going to happen. It was scary,” he said.

“As soon as I sensed someone was near, I used to wake up. But then one night I didn’t, and my things got taken.”

Henry Wilson at his new accommodation in Sydney. Wilson slept rough at Sydney’s Central Station for several months.

Wilson is one of the many older Australians facing homelessness. It’s a problem that will only get worse. Two distinct social trends – an ageing population and rising property prices – are combining to drive concerns that more older Australians will find themselves homeless.

Mission Australia this week released a report on the issue, collating data on ageing and homelessness to paint a worrying national picture. The number of older Australians is set to double between 2010 and 2050.

The most recent census figures available on homelessness, from 2011, show one in seven people experiencing homelessness are aged 55 or over.

Last year, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 21,600 people over 55 asked for help from specialist homelessness services. Mission Australia said the demand is continuing to grow.

Only a tiny amount of rental properties were affordable and appropriate for low-income, ageing Australians. Just 4.28 percent of rental properties were suitable for couples on the age pension, according to an Anglicare report this year. For single pensioners, it was 1.62%.

The Mission Australia report listed a suite of contributors to homelessness for older Australians: a lack of appropriate housing, the lack of affordability in private rentals, insufficient social housing stocks, elder abuse, disability, cognitive impairment, mental illness and family violence.

The Mission Australia chief executive, Catherine Yeomans, is now calling for 60,000 additional social housing dwellings to be built, specifically designed for older people.

She also wants to see 75,000 new affordable homes, and 4,200 Aboriginal controlled homes.

“We’re seeing a growing problem, and if we’re not careful, it’s really going to be an emerging crisis,” Yeomans said.

“We have to increase the [housing] stock, the fundamental problem is that there are increasing numbers of people needing to access social housing, because they can’t afford the private rental market, and they clearly don’t have their own homes,” she said.

The report also calls for a review of social security payments for older Australians, to ensure they are adequate for the cost of living.

Funding to support services should also increase, so they can provide “holistic, person-centred supports to older people at risk of and currently experiencing homelessness”.

Things are better for Wilson now. Mission Australia’s outreach service, Missionbeat, found him and connected him with a motel, before working using the state housing system to find him a public housing bedsit in Waterloo.

“I’ve got a nice bed, I’ve got cupboard, I’ve got TV, I’ve got fridge, I’ve got food … life’s looking up now, you know what I mean?” Wilson said.

“It’s an experience to go through what I went through and I know deep down in my heart there’s still a lot going through it,” he said.

“But I’m lucky enough I’m on the other side now. So now I can move on.”

 

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