Yes, it CAN happen to anyone

We hear from guest blogger Annie, the chair of Launch Housing’s Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG), as she shares her take on what it’s like to be an older woman with an experience of homelessness. Now in her 60s, Annie was a company director but due to circumstances beyond her control she lost her business. Dealing with medical issues and without superannuation, she had to move out of the property she had lived in for nearly 10 years. She now lives in transitional housing while she sits on a waiting list for permanent housing as she has been for 3 years.

“Yes, it CAN happen to anyone.”

By Annie, Chair of Launch Housing’s Lived Experience Advisory Group.

Between 2011 and 2016 there was an increase of 31% of older women experiencing homelessness. We are mostly vulnerable and traumatized and full of shame and humiliation. I want to concentrate on women over 55 who are homeless for the first time.

That is not to take away from the many who have been homeless for a period of time, but specifically, just those for whom homelessness is new. And raw. And painfully real. We don’t have a voice. We’re invisible because we’re no longer useful.

We’re no longer physically productive, no longer childbearing, most of us are not attractive to a society obsessed with beauty. How many older women do we know of as board members of private companies? We are past our use-by date so we are invisible.

You hear the common refrain “it can happen to anyone and we are all one pay away from being homeless.”

We know that’s not true for most people, but it makes people feel good and we also know that it’s never going to happen to us. But it can and it does, and then we become a statistic, a non-human, a number on a chart and a number on a waiting list. It can happen for a myriad of reasons.

Domestic violence, divorce, lack of job opportunities, death of a partner and so on. Most women have had broken paid employment to raise families, work part time or casually, care for elderly parents and struggle to get back in the workforce after 40.

We are invisible because we are sleeping on the couches of friends or family. We’re supplying babysitting in exchange for a spare bed. We’re travelling around the country in motor homes because we have nothing else.

We are working at live-in jobs that are too much for our bodies but we have no other choice. We are doing anything to avoid being on the street. And we can’t afford private rental on Newstart or the Disability Support Pension or the Aged pension.

When you are in your 60s and you find yourself in this situation a sense of total powerlessness overcomes you. So it begs the question: What of all us women who have raised the next generation, who’ve volunteered in tuck shops and schools, who’ve volunteered in local communities and organisations and saved the government billions in care for the disabled and the elderly? We get no recognition for our contribution to society and are seen as failures for the situation we find ourselves in.

There is no housing. There is no stock, there are priorities for people with families, as it should be, and so we are stuck in no man’s land just waiting. They say that nursing homes are God’s waiting room. We’re in the queue without a ticket.

We need to make something happen for the women, the mothers and grandmothers and sisters who have helped society flourish and whose turn it is now to have a hand up. And I’ll just keep waiting for housing, and waiting and waiting.

We need to make our voices heard by writing to and ringing our local members to see some action taken.