AN increasing number of women aged up to 75 are seeking crisis accommodation in Newcastle, Nova for Women and Children chief executive Kelly Hansen says.
“We are seeing a lot of older women turning up on our doorstep who have been living in cars,” she said. “We get phone calls saying their landlord is putting up the rent, and they can no longer afford it. They can be in their early 70s that they begin that cycle into homelessness.”
National data shows the number of homeless women aged 55 and above increased by 29 per cent between 2011 and 2016.
“Their need for accommodation is increasing,” Ms Hansen said. “I am appalled, and I am ashamed, that we keep getting referrals for women who would have never presented at a homeless service. Many of them would have been home makers, or they had been working but suddenly lost their jobs. We often say that older women are often a pay cheque away from homelessness if they are in a private rental.”
When Cathy had a heart attack about a year ago, she assumed she would eventually be able to return to work.
She had always worked.
Then the Hunter resident had a second heart attack, and her health continued to deteriorate.
“It soon became clear I’d never be able to work again,” she said. “I applied for a disability support pension, and they knocked me back. I’ve appealed it, now I’m waiting.”
Cathy, who spoke on condition of anonymity, found herself living in a house she could no longer afford.
“The pension wasn’t enough to cover the rent.”
Months before she had to leave, she searched for something more affordable.
“Even the rents I could afford, there were 20 other people applying, and people who were working were given preference over people on a pension,” she said.
“This is the first time I have ever been homeless. I’m 65.
“I’ve been divorced a long time, and my children have all grown up and moved away.”
Cathy was angry at the lack of government support, and lack of political willpower, to help people like her.
Out of desperation, she threatened to sleep at a local Department of Housing office until they found her something. Anything.
“I was really nice about it, I just said, ‘I have no alternative. I am here, I’ll wait’,” she said. “I sat there for hours.”
She is currently living in a women’s refuge.
“The face-to-face staff at Centrelink and the Department of Housing are lovely.
“But when the decisions are being made by somebody somewhere else who hasn’t seen the client, they don’t care… They don’t care.
“I don’t need much. I am good at budgeting.
“But you’re only a broken washing machine away from being completely broke.”