Female Empty Nesters The New Homeless

Brooke Vitnell says older women are at greatest risk of homelessness. Photo by Marian Sampson


IT’S a sad state of affairs but women are now the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia.

It’s not teens, or youth that make up this group.

The stark reality is that women aged 65-74 are now experiencing a growth in homelessness.

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Local solicitor Brooke Vitnell who has previously worked for The Federal Minister for Families and Social Services as a Senior Adviser and the Federal Minister for Employment and Minister for Women is seeing these women in her practice.

Brooke Vitnell told News Of The Area, “The fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia today is older women aged 65 to 74.

“Homelessness within this group increased by 51% in five years to 2016.

“We don’t even have more recent homelessness data yet and I can only imagine once 2020’s data is added, these figures will paint a more profoundly worrying picture.

“Census data does not even tell the full story, because for many older women, homelessness manifests itself in ‘couch surfing’ – stays in relatives’ guests’ rooms, spare bedrooms of friends’ homes or on someone’s sofa.

“We have a growing cohort of vulnerable older female Australians and most of society isn’t aware.

“These women aren’t employed as often as younger Australians, they are overlooked for work, rendering them reliant on an aged pension or a disability support pension.”

She went on to say women in this situation often pursue a separation or divorce later in life and a Court may order that shared property be listed for sale.

They then usually end up with either a little or substantial amount of cash after the sale of property.

This is compounded by financial institutions who are reluctant to lend to single women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who aren’t working full time.

“This obstacle is encountered for women without a rental history as well, they may have owned the house for 40 odd years, finding affordable rental accommodation without a rental history, or a savings history can be difficult.

“There are also those women for whom a medical emergency or unexpected health problem can materialise, leaving them out of the workplace for weeks or months on end, not accruing an income but still running up medical expenses which can quite quickly imperil a woman financially,” she said.

Anne Fletcher of Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services told News Of The Area, “Certainly we are seeing women that have been at home and been homemakers, they don’t have Super to fall back on, and now they find themselves without a property, not enough money to buy, and no relevant recent skills to get jobs.

“On Jobseekers’ $590 a fortnight after they pay for a room for around $260 a week they are left with around $70 a fortnight – these women get marginalised.

“This is such a large problem as there are some big players that need to come to the table on this and they way they support people in this space and the way they look at family law,” she said.



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