Homelessness is currently affecting more than 116,000 Australians, and the issue continues to grow, particularly for older Australian women. The reality is that this is a trap which is extremely easy to fall into, and far more difficult to break out of. There are many organisations, both public and private, who are working to address the homelessness problem in Australia, with a range of innovative solutions, however there is still so much more to be done.
Women in Super were grateful to be invited to the Right Lane Consulting Women’s Financial Security Forum in September this year, where we met with some of these organisations, as well as other like-minded individuals who are committed to making meaningful change.
A key learning from the forum was that there are actually three main categories of homelessness, two of which are invisible to the general public, which leads to a gross under-appreciation of the issue. The term ‘homelessness’ doesn’t just encapsulate those who are ‘sleeping rough’, on the streets or in their cars. It also includes those who are moving between temporary shelters such as refuges, motels, friend’s houses, etc., as well as those in boarding houses and caravan parks, the latter of which makes up the largest percentage of the current number of homeless persons.
The other area of focus was the range of stories and the women who told them. We heard from three panelists, each of which had an entirely different story to tell. Domestic violence, family illness, business theft were each catalysts for different women and the beginning of their downward spiral.
Difficulty navigating the system was a common theme, where each woman, after experiencing extreme trauma, was forced to find her own way through the beaurocratic maze of our social services, with little guidance or assistance from the very system that is in place to help them maintain their dignity.
The forum discussed these (and other) barriers faced by women in these situations, using the collective and varied experience to ascertain what needed to be done, and what could be done.
It is important to remember that housing is a right, and something as simple as classifying it as ‘infrastructure’ would change public perception drastically, making having a home as essential as having access to roads or schools or hospitals.
The forum was inspiring and devastating in equal measure. Heartening to see so many initiatives that already exist, and rewarding to be part of the discussion to establish what else can be done.