After all they’ve given, older women deserve better

14 February 2022

Insecure housing, tenuous economic security, and looming stress and burnout: these are the lived realities of too many Canberrans as revealed by YWCA Canberra’s 2021 Our lives: women in the ACT survey. 

Our findings reinforced that the lives of many people living in Canberra are defined by economic insecurity and general uncertainty, with COVID-19 exacerbating the inequalities. Many respondents reported being on the brink of housing stress, with 26 per cent of renters saying they don’t have sufficient personal savings to manage one payment cycle if they should suddenly lose their income. And our survey started before the August 2021 lockdown, which no doubt further intensified these issues. 

The fastest growing cohort experiencing homelessness in Canberra is older women. Between our 2019 and 2021 surveys, usage of specialist homelessness services among women aged 45 and over jumped from three to eight per cent, and half the single women in that age group who were renting said they would be unable to cover one cycle of rent if they suddenly lost their income. No other age bracket in our survey experienced comparable levels of rental stress. 

These are women who did everything society asked of them; they worked until their pregnancy or the marriage bar excluded them from the workforce, they raised families, they volunteered, and they cared for their parents. As a result of this life of unpaid but critical social labour, many of them now experience poverty and financial stress in their retirement. 

“Homelessness in my 50s was not something that was part of my life plan! Nor were the issues I faced leading up to my accommodation crisis.”

The issue of older women’s homelessness is often hidden, because this cohort is remarkably resourceful at ‘managing’ their homelessness. This could be through informal house-sitting arrangements, by moving between different friends or relatives homes every few weeks, by partnering up out of necessity and by living in their cars. 

However, the pandemic’s impact on both travel and movement of people in and out of households has made it harder for women who would otherwise rely on such measures to find solutions, and has exacerbated the drivers of homelessness for older women. 

“Prior to COVID-19 I had been homeless since 2011 and had been a house sitter so as to not sleep rough. After COVID-19 I was allocated government housing through the efforts of YWCA Canberra, because there was no longer any housesitting available. I had been on the housing list for some years prior to this to no avail.” – Our lives respondent, older woman.

The need for affordable and sustainable housing is overwhelming.  

That’s why YWCA Canberra is planning to build new homes for older women in Canberra who are struggling with housing crisis and add to the urgently needed supply. These women deserve to retire with dignity and respect, and be empowered to take control of their housing situation. 

After all they have given to our community, that is the least we can do. 

You can help us achieve this dream by donating to YWCA Canberra through the Hands Up for CBR Giving Day appeal before 11 March 2022. Your donation will be matched by Hands Across Canberra, doubling your impact.  

Please help us help older women in Canberra. 

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