ACT News

Growing number of older women on the edge of homelessness

A steady income and tertiary qualifications are not enough to stem the growing number of older women on the edge of homelessness, according to the ACT’s first study of the vulnerable demographic.

ACT Shelter will on Friday launch Home Truths: Older Women’s Housing Vulnerability in the ACT, in an effort to deal with one of the most disadvantaged groups in the community – older, single, low-income women renting in Canberra.

Lucy Peter has struggled to find work and survives on a disability support pension for which she may soon be ineligible. ...
Lucy Peter has struggled to find work and survives on a disability support pension for which she may soon be ineligible. ‘‘If I lose it, I’m homeless,’’ she says.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

The report recommends several strategies to support homeless older woman while preventing those at risk from falling over the edge.

The results arrive amid an expected surge in the number of Canberra women at risk of homelessness, in line with an ageing population and an expensive rental and housing market.

But the face of housing vulnerability in the report is far from uneducated or unemployed.

About 70 per cent of the 45-year-old-plus women surveyed had a job, while three-quarters had completed tertiary study, painting an even drearier picture for those with no occupation and fewer qualifications.


The average woman surveyed had an income of $804 a week. Her savings were around the $200 mark and she expected to have accumulated $74,000 in superannuation by retirement.

Despite regular pay packets, paying the bills and putting food on the dinner table wasn’t easy.

She might not be homeless yet but she feared her life could take that dreaded turn.

Lucy Peter knows firsthand how unexpected that change can be. In the year of her 50th birthday, the former New York executive was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer – a prognosis of six months – amid a divorce.

The 58-year-old Weston Creek resident moved to Canberra for a fresh start two years ago and has struggled to secure employment despite applying for countless jobs, previously running her own marketing company in Adelaide and speaking three languages.

Today she relies on her $20,000 disability support pension – money she fears she may no longer be eligible for by December.

“If I do [lose it], I’m homeless,” she said.

Ms Peter remained positive and said she just wanted to live in a clean, private and secure place – even if it meant never owning property.

“I no longer think I will ever own an apartment – I just want to be able to afford rent, a car, so I don’t feel unsafe,” she said.

It’s a sentiment shared more broadly among the target research group, according to the woman behind the report, Lisa Petheram.

“It’s quite scary for a lot of these women to have insecurity of tenure into old age. That was one of the main things that really came out of this for me,” she said.

Dr Petheram said a range of solutions was needed to deal with the many reasons women might face homelessness or insecure living arrangements.

Innovative housing options such as community land trusts could open up housing to women with limited savings unable to enter the regular housing market, according to the findings.

Modifications to the ACT’s existing land rent scheme – which according to the study, were better suited to young, low-income couples – was another option explored to prevent homelessness.

Other report recommendations included: funding a specialised service to provide tenancy advice specifically for older women; raising awareness of housing vulnerability and preventative measures among at-risk women and other stakeholders; and developing policies to ensure greater rental security and affordability in the ACT.