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

Blue house on quiet street
Blue house on quiet street

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.

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