Media Release by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Government targeting older homelessness

One-fifth of homeless Australians are aged 55 and over and many more are living in precarious housing circumstances, new Government-funded research has found.

Releasing the study on International Day of Older Persons, Minister for Housing and Homelessness Brendan O’Connor said the findings underscore the importance of the Government’s investments in affordable housing specifically targeted at older Australians.

Homelessness and older Australians: Scoping the issues is the first of two reports on the issue compiled by researchers from The University of Queensland, commissioned as part of the National Homelessness Research Agenda 2009-13.

“We know from most recent estimates that persons aged 55 and over comprise close to one-fifth of all homeless people in Australia,” Mr O’Connor said.

“We also know that Australia’s population is ageing and the number of people aged 50 and over is predicted to more than double from 2010 to 2050.

“This tells us that later life homelessness is likely to be a growing issue requiring sustained attention and sustainable strategies.

“Part of the problem is a lack of affordable housing for senior Australians, and that is why we are investing more than $20 billion in social and affordable housing measures, ensuring that a proportion of these homes are specifically earmarked for older Australians.

“The $5.6 billion Social Housing Initiative is helping low income Australians who are homeless or struggling in the private rental market, and over 6,420 new houses have been built as part of this project specifically for people over 55.

“The Government also understands that we also require specific policies to address vulnerability to homelessness among older Australians with chronic mental illness, cognitive impairment and substance abuse.

“This requires service integration and collaboration among different sectors: the specialist homelessness services, the social housing system, the social security system, the community and residential aged care system and the health system.

“Currently, the Department of Health and Ageing assists older people who have insecure housing, or are homeless, through the Assistance with Care and Housing for the Aged (ACHA) Program.

“In 2012-13, the Government is investing $5.197 million in the program, which is helping older Australians remain in the community by facilitating access to housing and linking them to community care services where appropriate.

“In addition, around 219,000 Australians aged 65 years and over are receiving assistance to pay their rent through the Commonwealth Rent Assistance program, as at June 2012.

Mr O’Connor said the research provided valuable insight into a largely unknown client group.

“Tackling homelessness is a complex challenge and this research is vital to how we target resources into the future,” Mr O’Connor said.

“In a wealthy country like Australia, it is unacceptable that tens of thousands of Australians are homeless on any given night. The Gillard Government is committed to our ambitious goals of halving homelessness and offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020.

“Research on the causes of homelessness in later life in Australia is at an early stage, with only a handful of studies undertaken to this point.

“The Government is funding the National Homelessness Research Agenda so that we know what works, what doesn’t and where the gaps are so that we can break the cycle of homelessness.

“Further research will be undertaken under this study that will shed a light to specific issues affecting homeless older Australians and will explore potential policy and program responses to these issues.

View the full copy of Homelessness and older Australians: Scoping the issues