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Queensland’s oldest charity launches much-needed guide to empower alarming number of older women facing homelessness in the state

By | Blog, Homelessness

Queensland’s oldest charity has turned its attention to focus on supporting the growing number of older women who are facing housing uncertainty.

Senior women facing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic have benefitted from increased payments via JobSeeker and increased availability in the private rental sector, but The Lady Musgrave Trust’s chief executive officer Karen Lyon Reid said there was still very much an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear.

“The increase in housing availability and payments while positive are only providing temporary relief,” she said.

The Lady Musgrave Trust, established in 1885, is Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women.

Last year, the Trust surveyed more than 100 women experiencing or concerned about homelessness after the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced older women’s homelessness had increased by 31 per cent between the past two census periods.

“Women 55 or over represent the fastest growing demographic in the homeless population,” Karen said.

“The rate of growth in this demographic is a new and alarming phenomenon.”

The Trust provides life-saving services to vulnerable women and their children when they are facing critical homeless situations.

Women like Elly, who at 76 has struggled to find affordable and suitable housing since the break-up of her 43-year marriage.

Elly’s journey as a homeless senior woman started 10 years ago when she returned home from two years of working in Asia as an English teacher to find her husband had sold her car to fund his drinking and gambling addictions.

Their family home was also about to be repossessed.

“I just packed up and left. I was distraught,” she said.

With limited savings and unable to find work because she was “too old” and “overqualified”, the mum-of-two got housesitting jobs and started studying for a second university degree. Eventually, sick of living out of suitcases, Elly rented a unit but the rent kept increasing at a rate that her pension didn’t.

In March this year Elly was approved for public housing east of Brisbane but she said the living situation was still not ideal.

“I feel like I’m being punished for being a woman and for being alive this late in life,” she said.

“There’s just no decent standard of living for older women.

“I have many friends who find normal housing unaffordable. It is not just my story – it is the stories of many women.

“Women with no personal support network don’t know who to turn to and where to get help.”

With the aim to provide older women with practical and relevant information on how to resolve their unique circumstances, the Trust have developed the Handy Guide for Older Women to be launched on August 5.

Since 2011, together with its partners, the Trust has developed and distributed the widely adopted Handy Guide for Homeless Women products.

This year, the guide has been developed specifically for older women who are facing homelessness or are anxious about their future housing.

Karen said the guide looks at the whole woman, not just their housing needs, and includes planning tools and a directory of services from health and wellbeing, training and employment.

“While it is for older women, it is also helpful for friends, family members and workers in services that connect with older women,” she said.

“The intent of the Handy Guide for Older Women is to educate women and encourage planning before a crisis emerges.”

The Trust will be congratulated at the launch on their work in developing the Guide by Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson, State Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni and Assistant Federal Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services Luke Howarth.

Over the next 12 months, the Guide will be put into the hands of tens of thousands of women over the age of 55.

It can also be ordered online at thehandyguide.com.au.

Food service

Intersectional vulnerabilities: How COVID-19 has affected society’s most defenceless

By | Blog, Homelessness

Words by Mollie Matthews

For those sleeping rough, lockdown has made life more difficult than ever before. Businesses are closed. Public bathrooms are shut. Shelters are overflowing, with food donations and volunteer workers decreasing daily as people prioritise their own safety over helping others. Staying home, washing our hands and even social distancing are virus prevention measures we have taken for granted.

One organisation striving to combat this struggle is The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women. “Due to the pandemic, women don’t have as many choices,” says Karen Lyon Reid, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust.

After being told to ‘stay home’ for countless weeks, naturally, people are feeling cooped up. But for those who live in dangerous homes, this trapped feeling is a genuine, pressing threat. The UN Population Fund has projected that the global lockdown will result in 15 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide.

“They feel as if they have to stay in their current situation because they aren’t allowed to move due to restrictions. It’s hard for these women to research about where to go when you aren’t allowed to leave your house,” Ms Lyon Reid says.

“The intensity of these situations is beginning to ease with the easing of lockdown restrictions, but in the height of national lockdown, this issue was extremely problematic for women in those situations.”

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 42 percent of the clients of specialist homelessness services have experienced family and domestic violence, with this number expected to increase resultant of the number of reported cases.

For victims of domestic violence, many are forced to stay isolated with their abuser, causing an influx in reported cases and an increase in women seeking refuge and shelter. Unfortunately, it also means many survivors are deciding to return to their abuser, for fears that resource access is limited amid COVID-19.

“It’s more difficult for these women to live with their abusers, as people are in closer proximity with their partners and are drinking more,” Ms Lyon Reid says.

“The issue is being compounded and there’s less opportunities for these women to seek help or find places to stay – even hotels haven’t been open, so difficulty arises finding shelter and safety.”

The unemployment rate in Australia is estimated to increase to over 10 percent as a result of the pandemic. With such an increase in job loss nationwide, the potential for homelessness will be greater in many situations. Challenges for those already homeless have become more extreme, as they are exposed to more health risks, receive less help from volunteer organisations, and experience more difficulty seeking employment.

People who are homeless are more likely to contract respiratory diseases or have chronic health conditions that cause them to be susceptible to the virus. For these people who are among society’s most vulnerable, following the basic steps of virus prevention proves to be near impossible.

Properties such as those owned by The Lady Musgrave Trust help to aid people in escaping the dangers that come with sleeping rough during a global pandemic, but the resources owned by these charities aren’t capable of fully supporting the influx of people in need of their assistance while the funding remains the same as it was pre-pandemic.

“We provide accommodation to young women, so more funding to provide accommodation would allow us to assist more women,” says Ms Lyon Reid.

“As well as accommodation, we also produce our Handy Guide for Homeless Women in Brisbane. We print 16,000 physical copies of these each year, and we have already distributed all of these. More funding would mean we could have printed more of those, assisting more women in need.”

Women are most at risk of homelessness. Homeless people are the most at risk of contracting COVID-19. These intersecting vulnerabilities mean that now more than ever, people need to look past their privilege and help those who need it.

older woman looking at finances

Funding fast-tracks new program to help end homelessness for older women in QLD

By | Blog

It will soon be easier for older women experiencing homelessness or at risk of being homeless in Queensland to navigate their way to a better life, as Eastern Star Foundation announces a $100,000 grant to The Lady Musgrave Trust.

The gap funding will help Queensland’s oldest charity to rollout the Ending Homelessness for Older Women project, which includes the development of a new website, that will be a central repository of information and resources for those seeking help. In addition, a minimum of 16,000 hardcopies of the new Handy Guide for Older Women will be produced and distributed throughout communities across the state.

A portion of the funding will also go towards their annual Women and Homelessness Forum which will focus on Older Women – Living on the Edge of Homelessness to be held on the 5th of August. Industry experts and stakeholders will get together to collaborate on ways to address this ever-growing social issue.

The Lady Musgrave Trust Chief Executive Officer Karen Lyon Reid said with an ageing population, now is the time to step up efforts in this area.

“We’re seeing the number of older homeless women rise, with a 31% increase since 2011,” Ms Lyon Reid said.

“The reasons why women face homelessness in their older years are many and varied, whether that’s due to a family breakdown or loss of a partner, domestic violence, poor mental and physical health, poverty or financial difficulties due to loss of employment and lack of superannuation.

“The common denominator is that many of these older women are experiencing or at risk of homelessness for the first time and don’t know where to turn for help or feel daunted when approaching support services that are tailored for those that have been homeless in the long-term.

“This funding will help us improve outcomes for this vulnerable group right across the state.”

Eastern Star Foundation Chairman Johnathan Nantes said this was one of three initiatives to be funded by organisation in its inaugural grant round, since becoming a charitable foundation last year. The group, which was formerly known as Star Aged Living and was established by members of the Order of the Eastern Star, operated a not-for-profit aged care facility in Beaudesert before it was sold to Whiddon Group early last year.

“Our new charitable focus is to empower those who enhance the quality of life for our ageing communities,” Mr Nantes said.

“Indeed, the initiative aligns with our key activities which includes support for older and elderly women suffering from financial and physical hardship.

“We are proud to partner with The Lady Musgrave Trust on this important initiative to help more older women lead dignified and independent lives.”

 

For media requests, please contact:

Eastern Star Foundation Karen Tilke, Marketing and Public Relations, 0408 086 390 or info@easternstarfoundation.org.au

The Eastern Star (Australia) Foundation Ltd trading as Eastern Star Foundation Ph:07 3493 6093 | PO Box 1202, Fortitude Valley QLD 4006 | ACN 166 950 321 | ABN 36 640 477 592

Why staying at home and self-isolation is a privilege not all can access

By | Blog, Homelessness

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians are being told to stay home and stay safe. But what if you don’t have a home – or your home isn’t safe?

While it’s natural to be frustrated by the measures that have been introduced to combat COVID-19, it’s also important to acknowledge that the ability to self-isolate and maintain social distancing in a safe home environment is a privilege that not everyone enjoys.

For those sleeping rough, staying home isn’t an option. And for those living with a perpetrator of domestic violence, staying home is just as dangerous a prospect as going out.

Roughly 20,000 Queenslanders experience homelessness at any one time. Without safe and secure accommodation, they are particularly vulnerable to the virus, especially if they are already living with a chronic health condition. And with the coronavirus crisis causing a surge in unemployment, housing advocates are seeing an increase in the number of people sleeping rough.

The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women, is among those organisations experiencing an increase in demand for their services.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in calls from women seeking help,” says Karen Lyon Reid, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust.

“We provide at-risk and disadvantaged women and their children with accommodation in safe and furnished units throughout Brisbane and Ipswich, but those units are all full at the moment. We’re connecting women with other services, but we’re hearing reports that they’re having trouble finding accommodation elsewhere.”

Of particular concern for The Lady Musgrave Trust are the women who find themselves faced with the ‘choice’ of staying at home with an abusive partner or leaving their home and attempting to find accommodation in the midst of a pandemic.

“Women who may already have been at risk of domestic violence are now finding themselves trapped in circumstances that exacerbate the problem,” Ms Lyon Reid says. “People are staying at home, they’re cut off from their social networks, and in many cases they’re feeling financial pressure. People are under a lot of stress, and unfortunately, we know that stress often leads to violence.

“Obviously, COVID-19 makes it much harder for these women to simply walk out of their homes and into other premises. Their options are very limited.”

Ms Lyon Reid welcomes recent moves by the Federal and State Government to address the issue, including a $5.5 million boost from the Queensland Government for domestic violence services, and a push to house at-risk women and their children in hotels and residential properties to free up capacity in shelters. But, she says, charities like The Lady Musgrave Trust are still in urgent need of support from donors.

“Our issue is fundraising,” Ms Lyon Reid says. “The reality is that, between the bushfires earlier in the year and now the coronavirus, there’s only so much money to go around, and donations to The Trust have slowed.

“We’re asking our supporters to continue to contribute to our cause financially, because their donations enable us to continue to do our work.”

Among the priorities for The Trust is a new print run of the popular Handy Guide for Homeless Women, a document designed to provide women without shelter or at risk of becoming homeless with the information they need to improve their situation, including where they can access accommodation, health services, legal assistance and employment.

“We printed 14,000 copies of the Handy Guide for Homeless Women last August, and they’re all gone already,” Ms Lyon Reid says.

“We are urgently seeking funding for an additional print run of the Handy Guide, because it’s a real tool that empowers people to improve their circumstances. Nurses hand them out in hospitals; they get distributed to employment centres; and with so many people in dire straits and scared for their future, the Handy Guide will be an essential resource for them.”

You can donate to The Lady Musgrave Trust at ladymusgravetrust.org.au/make-a-donation.

The Lady Musgrave Trust’s Handy Guide for Homeless Women is available online here.

For domestic or family violence support services, call DVConnect on 1800 811 811. Those who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness can call the Queensland Homeless Hotline on 1800 474 753.

Five money traps to avoid at all costs

By | Blog

Mark Bates, a UnitingCare financial counsellor who spoke at The Lady Musgrave Trust 11th Annual Women and Homelessness Forum, calls out five things that we should stop wasting money on.

Funeral insurance

Generally, funeral insurance is the first thing people drop when the going gets tough. Especially as people get older, when we know they’re more likely to be living in poverty, funeral insurance is something they’re likely to cancel. Often, they’ll have been paying into it for several years by the time they cancel it, and then that money is just lost. So if you’re likely to cancel it eventually and get nothing back in return, why invest in funeral insurance in the first place?

If you really want to plan for the future, you’d be better off putting that money into a savings account and having control over it yourself. Then, when you have a dip in your income, you’re not making any more payments but that money is still there for you.

Controversially, perhaps, I would say private health insurance falls into this category for a lot of people, too. Should it really be a priority for you? It’s not necessarily a waste; it’s more that people need to review the appropriateness of it for their own situation. If you’re putting a lot of money into private health, and you’re on a low income, the reality is that your needs will usually be met by Medicare anyway.

For older people on a low income, life insurance is also something to reconsider. Clients will say to me, ‘Oh, it’s going to go to my grandchildren’, and that’s good, that’s their choice – but you have to look after yourself first. You can’t look after the grandkids if you’re not looking after yourself.

Credit repair services

You should never use a credit repair service, because the truth is you can’t repair someone’s credit. It actually can’t be done.

It’s one thing if the default on your credit file is an error. For instance, I had a default from Virgin Mobile, and I’ve never used Virgin Mobile. I was able to get that removed myself because it was put on my file in error. But if I genuinely owed that debt, a credit repair service wouldn’t be able to change it, no matter how much money I paid them.

After all, there’d be no point in having credit files if you could simply buy your way into good credit. You could say, ‘Here’s $5000 I borrowed; now please say I have a fantastic credit history’. It would be an endless cycle.

The reality is that nobody can repair your credit history if there’s a genuine default on there. And if it’s not a genuine default, you can fix it yourself – so why pay someone else to do it?

Rent-to-own appliances

The typical model for a rent-to-own appliance ends up costing people about three times as much as it would if they just bought it outright. So, for instance, if you bought a washing machine for $300, that same washing machine would end up costing you about $900 through a rent-to-own scheme.

If you’re on a low income, you may well be able to access a NILS (No Interest Loans Scheme) loan through a community service. They’ll lend you $300 to buy that washing machine, and it will end up costing you $300, as opposed to $900.

It’s just a very expensive way of acquiring whitegoods.

‘Exclusive’ credit cards and high-interest loans

People who believe in the ‘status’ of their credit cards have always astounded me. Why would you pay significantly more interest just so you can say you’ve got a David Jones American Express card?

I’ll ask clients, ‘Why do you want this credit card?’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, it makes me feel better about myself’. It just seems a little bit pointless to me.

Similarly, people will happily pay more interest on a credit card from a particular bank, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve been with this bank since I was at school, and they’ve always been good to me’. The reality, of course, is that they haven’t been ‘good’ to you. They’ve made quite a lot of money out of you. That’s what they’re there to do.

Everything the bank does for you is about money. And when you’re dealing with the bank, it needs to be about money for you, too. You should apply the same standards that they do. It’s not about status, or what bank account you had as a kid, or how you feel about them. It needs to come down to money.

The hardest lender to deter people from using is actually Cash Converters, because most people who have used Cash Converters a lot will have a personal relationship with the person who works at their local store. They’ll say, ‘Cash Converters are great! They always look after me!’

Meanwhile, they’re paying higher fees. But as far as they’re concerned, Cash Converters are great, because they’re meeting a need in their community.

Memberships and apps

Gym memberships are a classic money trap. We all start the new year with great commitment to our personal fitness, and by the middle of February, we find ourselves thinking, ‘One drink and one pie won’t really make any difference now, will it?’

I think most people have a story about joining a gym, going once or twice, and then finding themselves still paying for it two years later. They’re either too embarrassed to go into the gym and cancel it, or they signed a long-term contract – that’s how your money is wasted.

In terms of other memberships and streaming services, it depends on your income, but the less you’ve got, the more every little bit helps. For some people, cancelling their Spotify account won’t change their life. But for someone on a low income, if they’ve got $100 left for the week after they pay the rent, not paying for Spotify will make a big difference.

At the same time, I think it’s important that we don’t deny people on low incomes the simple things the rest of us take for granted. At the end of the day, we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. People ought to be able to afford to get a bit of exercise, or drink one beer in a pub on a Friday night. These things shouldn’t ruin anybody’s world, and we shouldn’t be too judgemental.

Smoking is a good example. We all know smoking is very expensive and it’s very bad for you. There’s no debate about either of these things. But if a client comes to me and says, ‘Six months ago I lost my job, and then I became homeless, and my wife left me, and now I’m spending $100 on cigarettes’, I’m not going to say, ‘Well, is it a good time for you to quit smoking?’ Because it’s not. I’ve never been a smoker, but I know that if I was under that sort of stress, that would not be the time to quit smoking.

Life’s tough enough for people – they don’t need moral judgements being made about them as well.

Seek advice from a professional before making any important financial decisions. For more information, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

Six myths about debt

By | Blog

Mark Bates, a UnitingCare financial counsellor who spoke at The Lady Musgrave Trust 11th Annual Women and Homelessness Forum, dispels six myths about debt that he encounters far too often.

Myth #1: If you go into debt, someone will come to your house and take your possessions

Many of the people I talk to are worried that if they go into debt, a bailiff or a debt collector is going to come to their house and take their things. And while it is true that people you owe money to can seek a warrant of seizure and sale, it’s important to understand that personal property is protected.

What that means is, essentially, most people in Australia have no seizable assets. The things in your home – your TV, your furniture, your computer – are not seizable. If you own your own home, that’s a seizable asset, and if you own a car with a value of $8,000 or more, that’s a seizable asset. But that’s it, for most people.

People still believe the myths they hear down at the RSL that someone is going to come and take their sofa away. That’s what happened to our grandparents, but that’s not what happens anymore. The legend hasn’t kept up with the law, which is actually pretty good at protecting people from financial predators and debt collectors now.

Most people who are in debt have enough things to worry about – they’re trying to find work, they’re trying to keep their families together – without worrying that someone’s going to come into their living room and pinch their TV as well. Breathe easy; it’s not going to happen.

Myth #2: Debt is a crime

You’d be surprised how many people I see who still believe that debt is a crime – that you can get a criminal record or even go to prison for not paying your credit card bills. They believe Dickensian debtors’ prisons are still in existence in Australia in 2020.

Debt is always a civil matter. It’s between you and the person you owe money to. If you can’t pay your loan back, you don’t get a criminal record and you don’t go to prison, and that’s the bottom line.

Similarly, while it is possible for a creditor to apply to make you go bankrupt if you owe them $5,000 or more, it’s extremely unlikely that they would do so. It’s pointless – the only benefit to them would be that they could seize your assets, but as I explained above, most people don’t have any seizable assets anyway.

The most a creditor will usually do is threaten to take you to court, because it’s much cheaper to send a letter threatening legal action than it is to actually initiate legal action. But when people don’t know what their rights are, that’s when they will panic. They’ll say, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve got to pay these people some money right now, so I don’t go to court and go to prison’.

People are living in fear when they have nothing to fear.

Myth #3: People go into debt by living extravagant lifestyles

There seems to be an assumption that people go into debt by living wildly beyond their means, but in my experience, that’s very seldom the case. That might be true of one in a thousand people. What’s far more common is that people are doing okay, and then something happens that’s beyond their control – and it’s almost always one of three things.

The first is the end of a relationship. You used to have two incomes coming in, and you were sharing the rent and splitting the bills and raising the kids together, and then all of a sudden you separate from your partner, and you’ve got to get by on one income.

The second is job loss, or – more commonly these days – job casualisation. You were going to pay off a car loan by doing a bit of overtime on a Saturday morning, and suddenly the overtime pay isn’t there anymore, and you can’t make the repayments, but you still need the car.

The third is ill health. Nobody chooses to be ill, but it can happen to anyone, and it can be quite costly.

These things aren’t anybody’s fault. These are just things that happen to you in life, and we all have to deal with them.

Myth #4: People who are in debt are bad at budgeting

Budgeting is absolutely fundamental to anyone’s financial situation, but it’s also important to understand that most of the people who seek financial counselling – people with low incomes and very limited resources – actually have great budgeting skills.

They can make money go further than I could ever dream of making it go, because they’re used to making do with not much. The greatest skills we have are often acquired through adversity – it’s our struggles that teach us about ourselves and force us to learn new things. So the people with the least money are often the best budgeters.

The real issue, unfortunately, is a lack of resources. You can’t live for very long on Newstart. It just can’t be done. There are things that make it easier – living in commissioned housing is a big help, for instance.

But if you’re living in private rental accommodation and relying on Newstart, you’re going to run out of money at some point, no matter how good you are at budgeting.

Myth #5: You are responsible for your partner’s debt

Contrary to popular belief, debt is unique to the individual.

What that means is, if your partner has a credit card and you’re a secondary card holder, you have no liability for that debt. The status of your relationship has nothing to do with it. It doesn’t matter if you met last night or if you have been married for 50 years – if a debt is in one person’s name, there is no liability for the other partner.

This is particularly relevant where a partner is concerned about their liability if they leave. Women who feel trapped in domestic violence situations will often come to me and say, ‘I want to leave him, but I need to pay my share of this debt first’. In reality, they don’t. If the debt is in his name, it’s his debt.

On the other hand, if the debt is in both partner’s names, then that’s called ‘joint and several liability’. For instance, if a husband and wife have a $50,000 debt in both of their names, the wife can’t say, ‘Well, I’ve paid my $25,000, so I’ve done my bit’. Both partners are liable for the full amount of the debt, not just for their ‘half’.

Myth #6: Bankruptcy is always the last resort

At the beginning of every session I have with a client, I explain that my role as a financial counsellor is not to tell them what to do. My role is to provide them with options to consider, and explain the consequences of those options – and sometimes, bankruptcy is a good option.

People won’t often tell you this. There’s a widespread belief that bankruptcy is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you, and that it should be avoided at all costs. But the truth is that there are times when bankruptcy can work very well for you.

For example, I recently counselled a lady in her sixties. She’s on the aged pension, and she’s never going to go back to work. She lives in private rental accommodation, she’s got no assets, and she’s got nearly $40,000 worth of debt that she has no way of paying back in her lifetime. She’s constantly being harassed by creditors. She has now decided to go bankrupt, so she won’t ever have to speak to any of these creditors again. She will find it difficult to access credit in the future, of course, but that wasn’t part of her plan anyway. Now she can live peacefully and not worry about owing anybody any money.

There is a legal reason that people go bankrupt – they’re insolvent, which means they can’t pay their debts when they’re due. But there is also an emotional reason. Some people are just worn out by the process of being in debt. Bankruptcy is a tidy process. It starts on this date, it ends on that date, and it extinguishes your debt so you don’t have to speak to your creditors anymore.

Of course, it all depends on your circumstances and your assets. If you’ve got seizable assets, then bankruptcy is a bad idea. I’ve had clients say to me, ‘I owe $50,000 on a credit card, and I’m thinking of going bankrupt, but I do own my own home’. In that case, they should sell their home first, because if they go bankrupt, they’re going to lose it anyway.

For some reason, there’s a persistent myth that your primary residence is protected from bankruptcy, but it’s not. It’s one of the few assets that creditors are perfectly entitled to go after, so you shouldn’t ever consider bankruptcy if you’ve got seizable assets you want to keep.

Bankruptcy isn’t a great option for everybody, but it’s certainly worth considering. In my time as a financial counsellor, nobody has ever said to me, ‘I’ve gone bankrupt and I wish I hadn’t’, but what I have heard a lot is, ‘I should have done this five years ago’.

When it comes to debt, the main thing is to be informed. You need to know what your rights are and what your options are, and that’s where a financial counsellor can help.

Seek advice from a professional before making any important financial decisions. For more information, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

Older Women Homeless

Queensland’s oldest charity wants to end homelessness for older women

By | Blog, News

The Lady Musgrave Trust has announced a bold new initiative in response to the alarming increase in older women facing homelessness.

The Queensland charity — dedicated to sheltering vulnerable women and their children — has launched the Ending Homelessness for Older Women project.

With generous support from the Cromwell Property Group Foundation, the project will seek to establish a centralised ‘one-stop shop’ for at-risk and homeless women over 50, pooling together all the resources that are available to them in one handy guide.

At least 12,000 copies of the guide will be published and distributed to mature-aged women who are at risk of homelessness or already homeless, providing them with information about vital and life-saving services.

Karen Lyon Reid, the Chief Executive Officer of The Lady Musgrave Trust, said that women aged over 50 are the fastest growing group of people at risk of homelessness in Australia.

“The ABS Census Data identified a 31 per cent increase in older women’s homelessness over 5 years,” Ms Lyon Reid said.

“That’s an alarming increase in women facing homelessness and we need to address these statistics.”

While the statistics are confronting, Ms Lyon Reid said the problem may actually be worse than it appears.

“This demographic is often invisible, and the statistics don’t tell the full story,” she said.

“Many of these women end up staying with friends, in motels, or sleeping rough in their cars — they’re very private people and they feel ashamed about their circumstances, so it’s hard to capture those people in the Census.”

Ms Lyon Reid said a perfect storm of factors have contributed to the increase in the number of older women facing homelessness, including relationship breakdowns, domestic violence, pay and superannuation inequity, and a reluctance and lack of awareness about how to seek support.

“Older women experiencing homelessness for the first time often don’t know where to turn,” she said.

“The resources intended to help them are spread out all over the place at the moment, and these women don’t know where to find it.

“The Ending Homelessness for Older Women project will empower older women with information about how to help themselves out of a difficult situation.”

The Lady Musgrave Trust is currently communicating with peak bodies and charitable organisations and undertaking extensive research to put together the guide.

“The Lady Musgrave Trust has been doing this for a long time, and we know that the right way to tackle these problems is not in isolation — it’s to create a network and leverage everybody’s knowledge,” she said.

The Ending Homelessness for Older Women project will also include an accommodation pilot program in Ipswich, utilising the Trust’s property portfolio to co-locate older women with younger women, fostering mutual learning and cross-generational mentoring.

The project’s findings will be presented at The Lady Musgrave Trust’s 12th Annual Forum for Women and Homelessness in August 2020.

“The Trust is turning 135 years old next year,” Ms Lyon Reid said, “and there’s no better way for us to commemorate this milestone than by delivering this very important project.”

Ms Lyon Reid said The Lady Musgrave Trust — which provides about 8,000 bed nights of safe accommodation for vulnerable women and their children each year — is looking forward to collaborating with like-minded organisations like the Zonta Club of Brisbane on this project. The Trust relies on support from many individuals, companies and organisations to support its work.

“There are significant costs involved in this project, and the more the public and the business community gets behind it and supports it, the more we’ll be able to do for these older homeless and at-risk women,” she said.

Donate to The Lady Musgrave Trust at ladymusgravetrust.org.au/make-a-donation

Lady Musgrave Lodge

Lady of the Lodge takes a stroll down memory lane

By | Blog

The Lady Musgrave Lodge was demolished decades ago, but Dawn Reed remembers it like she was there yesterday.

“Oh, it was a magnificent building,” Dawn says. “It had a wonderful atmosphere. When I stayed at The Lodge in Spring Hill in 1955 and 1956, most of the residents were girls like myself who had travelled from the country to attend the Kelvin Grove Teachers’ College. None of us had money, so we were all in the same boat… we couldn’t afford to travel by tram or bus, so we would walk from The Lodge on Astor Terrace, across the Victoria Park Golf Course, to the College every day. It was a fair hike, but we always did it together and it was lovely.”

Dawn Reed, now 80, stayed at The Lady Musgrave Lodge in 1955 and 1956.

The Lodge was established by The Lady Musgrave Trust — Queensland’s oldest charity — in 1891, soon after the Trust itself was founded by a group of compassionate Brisbane women in 1885. It was intended to be the first port of call for young emigrant women arriving in the colony, and a place for local working women to stay between jobs. It was named after the Trust’s first patron, Lady Lucinda Musgrave, the wife of Queensland’s then-Governor.

The Lodge provided safe and secure accommodation for these young women in need, and trained them in duties such as cooking and nursing, providing them with skills that would help them earn better lives for themselves.

By the time Dawn Reed came to stay at The Lodge in 1955, it was also housing young women who had travelled from all over the state to attend the Kelvin Grove Teachers’ College. There was a significant push to recruit more teachers at the time, and students who had only completed junior high school were eligible to apply.

“I was only 16 when I came to The Lodge,” Dawn, now 80, remembers. “I had gone to a small, one-teacher school in my hometown of Mount Morgan [in the Rockhampton region]. My teacher’s wife was also a teacher, though she wasn’t working at the time, and she was something of a mentor to me. She had stayed at The Lodge in the 1930s, and she recommended I go there if I was going to study in Brisbane. It was the best thing she ever did for me.

“Many of us stayed in twin rooms, although some of the older women had a room of their own. I was placed in a room with another student teacher who was a year ahead of me. She’d already been at The Lodge for 12 months, so that made the transition from my home in Mount Morgan to The Lodge very easy — she showed me the ropes.

“We were a very tight-knit group. We spent almost all of our time together — partly because most of us were going off to Teachers’ College together every day, and partly because we couldn’t afford to do much else. All our meals were cooked for us at The Lodge, so we always ate breakfast and dinner together and took our lunch with us to the College. We would often queue up together at the laundry to do our washing and ironing, and we spent a lot of time in the Common Room, where we could spread out and study.

“The matron at The Lodge would encourage us all to go to church together, but she never forced us to go. She was never pushy, which I really appreciated. I felt very privileged to be boarding in a very safe environment with a matron who really cared about us.”

Dawn (pictured here at 16) says she “felt very privileged to be boarding in a very safe environment”.

While the ladies’ budget for socialising was limited, they did enjoy the occasional college dance — and some of them even found time for dating.

“A couple of the girls had boyfriends, but the matron had pretty strict rules,” Dawn says. “You could only have a ‘late pass’ one night a week, and no boys ever came onto the premises. Nobody ever entertained at The Lodge. If you were going out with someone, they’d meet you at the gate and you’d go off to the movies.”

After graduating from the Teachers’ College, Dawn left The Lodge and began her professional career. “I taught for many years,” she says, “and I absolutely loved it.” Now retired and living in Rockhampton, she has reconnected in recent years with some of the women she met at The Lodge. “I will always value the friendships I made there,” she says.

After The Lodge’s closure in 1972, The Lady Musgrave Trust sold the property and later went on to purchase accommodation units in Nundah, Windsor and Kelvin Grove (the Windsor property has since been sold). The Lodge was demolished in 1975.

The Lady Musgrave Trust continues its important work to this day, helping Queensland’s homeless and vulnerable women get their lives back on track.

The Trust will commemorate its 135th anniversary with a Cocktail Party fundraiser at Blackbird Bar & Grill on Friday February 28 — tickets are on sale now.

Image: Lady Musgrave Lodge, Brisbane, ca. 1910. Via State Library of Queensland.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for homelessness

By | Blog, Homelessness

A wide range of speakers discussed why there is no ‘quick fix’ for women facing homelessness at The Lady Musgrave Trust’s 11th Annual Women and Homelessness Forum.

The theme of this year’s Forum was ‘Building Resilience – Surviving and Thriving’. As the speakers shared their reflections on the topic with the sold-out crowd at the Queensland Multicultural Centre, it quickly became clear that ‘surviving and thriving’ will mean something different for every individual woman facing the threat of homelessness.

The Member for Redlands, Kim Richards MP — appearing at the event on behalf of the Hon Mick de Brenni, Queensland Minister for the Department of Housing and Public Works — noted that “every situation is different, every circumstance is different”, and that homelessness can happen to virtually any woman at any time.

“I’ve seen it in my own family,” she said.

“My sister lives up in Cairns. She moved up there because that’s where her husband worked at the time. It was a very happy marriage, or what she thought was a very happy marriage, for 10 years. She was a stay-at-home mum, she had given up her career for his career. All of a sudden it was over.

“She didn’t have the skills she needed to get back into the workforce. She didn’t have the means to be economically independent. Finding a house up in Cairns… it was complex, and it was difficult, and without family support at the time, it would have been [even more] difficult.

“My sister was one of the lucky ones because she had a family that could help her. A lot of people don’t have that. They don’t have access to a family that can support them in that way to get back into their home, and to get back on to the pathway that helps them take their future forward.”

Financial counsellor Mark Bates explained that when people were going through a financial crisis, “it’s often because of something that’s beyond their control”.

“It might be a job loss or something like that. It can be quite scary, because I often find with the clients I’ve worked with that very small things can land people in a very, very difficult space.

“I had a gentleman come to see me who’d run his own multi-million dollar international business. The business had failed, he had started drinking and his wife had left him. He was not able to open his own mail anymore. He needed someone to be there to open his bills with him. What that tells us is that things can change very dramatically, even when we think we’re in a fantastic position, so you should always show respect and humility.”

Dr Ruth Knight, a Senior Research Fellow at QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, said organisations needed to innovate to be able to meet the varying needs of people at risk.

“There are a myriad of issues we need to address,” she said.

“We can’t just give people a house and expect to solve homelessness. We can’t just provide mental health services and expect to solve mental illness. We have to take a ‘systems view’ to our community; we have to look at the ways that we can be innovative within our organisations; we have to get much better at evaluating and reporting our impact; and we need to create better partnerships with the funders of our services — not just government, but social investors and philanthropists.

“All of that is critical to whether we’re going to get better or we’re going to get worse. We’re all in this. We’re all responsible, not just government.”

Kim Richards emphasised the need for a “more personalised and tailored approach” to dealing with homelessness.

“From a government point of view, resilience is about having the right programs, but it’s also about having the right people,” she said.

“I know we can’t do it on our own. I don’t think any one entity can do it on their own. It’s about walking the journey together, and that is critical to breaking the cycle of homelessness.”

Madonna King on the age of instant gratification

By | Blog, Thought Leadership

Award-winning journalist Madonna King discussed the downsides of the digital age at The Lady Musgrave Trust 11th Annual Women and Homelessness Forum.

King was a keynote speaker at the Women and Homelessness Forum, which drew a sold-out crowd to the Queensland Multicultural Centre to hear a range of speakers discuss this year’s theme, ‘Building Resilience — Surviving and Thriving’.

King, the mother of two teenage daughters, served as chair of the Queensland Government’s Anti-Cyber Bullying Taskforce in 2018, and gained a wealth of insight into the minds of young girls by speaking to more than 1500 of them over the course of writing her recent best-selling books, ‘Being 14’ and ‘Fathers and Daughters’.

“The iPhone has an enormous influence [on teens], and it’s not all bad,” King told the crowd.

“But it is also the biggest threat to connectedness, certainly in my lifetime. How do we teach our children that if you are not a kind person online, then you are not a kind person? How do we teach young boys that asking girls for a naked selfie is not respectful? And how do we tell our feisty young girls that the answer, when asked, is no?”

King said the “instant gratification” today’s teens have come to expect makes it difficult for them to develop resilience and persistence.

“The power of ‘now’ is a huge influence,” she said.

“There’s a story I tell students, and if you have a child, I recommend you tell them this. Ask them if they know how we used to take a photograph back in the old days, when we were their age. Remember?

“First we would line up the photograph, because we were responsible for the focus. There was no such thing as automatic focus. Then, once we’d take a photograph, we’d put the camera away, because we had to take another 11, or 23, or 35 photos before we could see any of them. That was never the same day, or even the same week. Memories were built up over time.

“Once we’d taken all our photos, we’d open the back door of the camera, and take out the film… then we’d take the film to the pharmacy. That adds to the story, because dropping it off meant a trip on foot or in the car. Downloading or uploading was not an option.

“But what happened a week later? We went back to the pharmacy with two things — money to pay for the photographs, which meant we considered each one that we took, and something else, too… a delightful sense of anticipation. That sense of anticipation has been stolen from our children, and I think as adults in their world, we have to find a way of gifting it back to them.

“It’s only an anecdote, I know, but it points to that issue of persistence, and how it is so lacking in our everyday transactions now. We no longer value it.

“I wrote the biography of Professor Ian Frazer, who developed the science behind the cervical cancer vaccine. Do you know it took 15 years of experiments, almost every day, to come up with the science that allowed the vaccine to be created? What would have happened if he’d stopped after one year? Or even 14 years?

“FOMO — fear of missing out — is driving our children’s motivations, and that means they don’t get to stop and hear white space. They don’t know who they are or who they want to be. They’re connected to the technology, not the person at the other end of the technology.”

King said girls are “crying out for connection”, but those cries aren’t always being heard by their parents.

“The influence of peers, and that need to fit in, runs tandem with the influence of the smartphone world that envelops them,” she said.

“Last week I was in Melbourne, running a workshop for teen girls. One of them, a 14-year-old, came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Can you just tell me how I get people to be nice to me?’

“That age, around 14, is the epicentre of this teen turmoil. That is well recognised in the school system, but not so much, I think, in our families and the community at large. We have to recognise how difficult it is for them, and respond in a way that influences and connects, instead of driving a wedge between us.

“We, as parents, can be so much more influential in our daughters’ lives, but we have to lead from the front, because our daughters will not ask for our help.”

Madonna’s books, ‘Being 14’ and ‘Fathers and Daughters’, are available online or through any good bookstore.

The Lady Musgrave Trust is Queensland’s oldest charity, and is committed to making a difference in the lives of those who find themselves homeless and in need at difficult times in their life.

We focus specifically on women and children’s homelessness throughout Queensland and provide young women up to the age of 30 with low cost accommodation and support services in our portfolio in Brisbane and Ipswich. We also create and distribute The Handy Guide for Homeless Women and host a unique Annual Forum focused on women and homelessness.