The YWCA helped Melissa Fowler find somewhere to live and get back on her feet. Photo: Melissa Adams
Welfare groups are calling for more government investment in accommodating the capital's vulnerable women as housing reaches "crisis point" in the ACT.
As part of an ageing population increasingly requiring housing support, older women are particularly vulnerable, according to YWCA executive director Rebecca Vassarotti.
In a submission to the ACT government's budget consultation, Ms Vassarotti said housing affordability and homelessness were significant issues for Canberrans, but the risks were greater for women.
"Women and girls face particular gendered vulnerabilities including greater exposure to violence, poverty and inequality, which increase their risk of homelessness," she said.
"Older women on low incomes but who don't qualify for public housing are particularly recognised as an emerging risk group for homelessness."
With almost 16,000 women in the ACT aged 60 years and over, according to 2011 census figures, Ms Vassarotti said older women were particularly at risk of homelessness given their dominance in lower-paid professions.
"This is an absolute priority," she said.
"This is going to be an increasing issue, particularly with our ageing population."
Ms Vassarotti said it was common for women to be left vulnerable after a relationship breakdown, a situation that former client Melissa Fowler has struggled through.
At 44, Ms Fowler is younger than the primary group of concern for the YWCA but the mother of four turned to them when she found herself unable to afford housing after the breakdown of her relationship.
She said the association provided her with temporary housing, got her name back on the government housing list and helped her enrol in courses and schooling.
"They helped me get back on my feet and start again," she said. "If I didn't have them, I'd still be in that situation - miserable and just co-existing because there was no way out."
The YWCA is urging the government to ensure women have ongoing access to gender-specific homelessness services, as well as calling for more available and affordable housing options for older people.
The Council on the Ageing ACT has also urged the government to prioritise the older homeless, saying elderly people in rental stress or those staying in temporary accommodation such as hostels and shelters were at risk of becoming homeless.
ACT Shelter said housing in the capital had reached a "crisis point".
Concerns from social welfare organisations coincide with an increase in the number of older people requiring public housing, according to the government's Public Housing Asset Management Strategy 2012-17.