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Help aged homeless, council urges

COTA has urged the government to consider elderly homeless people in it's budget.

COTA has urged the government to consider elderly homeless people in it's budget. Photo: Peter Braig

Canberra's elderly street people need to become a ''policy priority'' for the ACT government, according to the Council on the Ageing (COTA).

The council says there were 173 older Canberrans sleeping rough at the last census and, as the population ages, the problem is set to become worse.

In its submission to the government's budget consultation process, the council has asked that territory government policy makers prioritise older people with no homes or who are at risk of becoming homeless in the capital.

The council wrote that it was worried about the number of rough sleepers aged over 55, shown by Australian Bureau of Statistics researchers in 2011.

''According to the 2011 census, there were 173 homeless people over 55 in the ACT on census night, an increase of over 55 per cent on the 2006 census,'' the council wrote.

''These figures are probably an underestimate because of the difficulty of locating people sleeping rough, particularly in winter, and are likely to increase due to our ageing population.''

Despite acknowledging the government's $10 million pledge for a new social housing program and its support of the Common Ground initiative, the council says that homelessness among Canberra's older citizens has not been at the top of government priorities.

''Primary homelessness among the aged has not been a strong focus of policy in the past,'' the submission reads. ''Research and consultations indicate that older people who become or are homeless face specific difficulties, which need separate consideration from those of younger people, single parents and families.''

The submission cites research showing older single women with few assets are particularly vulnerable, as are older people whose family relationships have broken down.

The council is arguing for a series of initiatives to help ageing Canberrans stay in their homes, such as low-interest mortgage loans - which would allow older people with limited assets to buy property - partnerships between the government and private landlords to offer lower rents in return for stability of tenancy and other benefits.

The council wants the government to look at interstate schemes, such as Sydney's Charles Chambers Court, run by Mission Australia, which focuses on housing and rehabilitating older homeless people with mental illnesses.

''We would like to see a focus on homelessness, especially primary homelessness, i.e. people who are sleeping 'rough', in next year's budget,'' the council wrote.

The council wants resources directed towards older Canberrans who are struggling in Canberra's housing market, or whose uncertain accommodation arrangements put them at risk of sleeping rough.

''We also recognise that older people who are in rental stress or staying in temporary accommodation, hostels and shelters are at risk of becoming homeless in this very severe 'primary' sense and there is a need for a dual focus both on keeping those people from slipping downwards into primary homelessness and on addressing the specific issues which the homeless aged face,'' the submission says.

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