At this time of year, we look forward to catching up with family and friends, to enjoy sharing time and hospitality. However, the festive season can also bring mixed feelings.
For people living in poverty, it may be a very difficult time. Poverty is a root cause of homelessness: having a lower income than necessary to sustain a healthy and secure life, and to access the housing market, can result in tenuous housing situations, and potentially, homelessness.
Almost 15,000 older Australians experience homelessness or are at risk of homelessness due to lack of affordable housing, shortage of public housing, closure of private boarding houses and caravan parks.
Homelessness may arise from other factors such as mental health issues, domestic violence and abuse, disability, substance abuse, divorce and interrupted or insecure employment. In older age, homelessness profoundly impacts wellbeing: mental, physical and emotional health, the loss of social networks, vulnerability to physical violence and a loss of a sense of place in society.
Resthaven recently commissioned the University of South Australia to conduct research and prepare a report: ‘The risk of homelessness for older women in South Australia’ (Beer, A. and Spork, N. 2018).
With a 31% increase in the number of homeless women between Census 2011 and 2016, this report indicates that there is a growing demand from older women in tenuous housing situations for supported accommodation.
It is important to understand the causes and consequences of homelessness. It is equally important to offer equity in access to aged care services for all older people, including those people with reduced financial means and circumstance.
Fortunately, there are advocacy and linking services for people aged over 50 years, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme, Assistance with Care and Housing service. Support may include liaising with public housing representatives and private rental landlords, linking people with relevant services, and supporting people in seeking alternative housing situations or resolving issues such as hoarding or tenancy disputes.
Access to aged care services is via MyAgedCare: www.myagedcare.gov.au, phone 1800 200 422. It involves an assessment by qualified, experienced practitioners who advise an individual’s eligibility for services.
Christmas is a time to connect with our neighbours, friends and family and share the festive spirit. Reach out to others. Small gestures can mean a lot.
Opinion piece by Richard Hearn
former Resthaven Chief Executive Officer