The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW is bringing a group of experts together to tackle the growing crisis of homelessness facing older women as part of its annual Rosalie Rendu lecture. It will be held on 20 October during Anti-Poverty Week (16-22 October).

Susan Ryan AO, former Commissioner for Age Discrimination, will be delivering the keynote speech based on her experience addressing disadvantage among older women. Experts from different social welfare and housing agencies are joining panel and audience discussions to offer their insights into the plight facing older women.

More and more Australians are experiencing homelessness but the fastest growing group is older women , at a rate more than double those of women in the UK[1]. The majority of older women experience homelessness following separation, widowhood or domestic violence. These experiences also mean that women are more likely to experience poverty than men (15 per cent compared with 13 per cent).

“Many women spent long periods of time without regular employment while raising their children and as a result they have much less superannuation to draw on,” explains Jack de Groot, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.

“They are also usually in lower paid jobs and now, as they face failing health, redundancy or retirement, they find they can no longer afford to pay escalating rents in the private rental market. These women struggle to keep a roof over their head.”

Most of these older women have never received Centrelink benefits before, so this process is difficult for them, made a lot harder because they experience a loss of dignity. When they finally reach out for help there are fewer targeted services available to them, leaving them to fall through the cracks. Gaining access to social housing is difficult for older women because they are rarely given priority status.

Denis Walsh, President St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, says there is a vacuum of information and research on the issues facing older women and homelessness.

“The Rosalie Rendu lecture this year is providing a platform for all of us in the social welfare and housing sectors to address this knowledge gap and begin formulating solutions,” says Mr Walsh.

“Vinnies has developed a comprehensive ‘Right to Home’ campaign to address issues around housing affordability. We will be launching a petition on the night calling on the NSW Government to change planning laws so that at least 15 per cent of new residential developments are set aside for affordable housing.

“The lack of affordable housing and the impact it is having on older women as they leave employment and relationships require a whole-of-government response and collaboration within the sector. If we can get 10,000 signatures then the petition can be brought to Parliament for action to be taken. So we are encouraging our members to sign it and take it to their local communities.”

[1] 59 per cent of Australians seeking help from homelessness services are women, significantly higher than the UK’s 26 per cent and the USA’s 38 per cent. 36 per cent of these women have been affected by domestic violence and give this as the number one reason why they seek support from Vinnies and other specialist homelessness services.