(Private Members' Statements, 17 November, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The face of homelessness is changing. The number of people over 55 who are experiencing homelessness is increasing, with older women being disproportionately affected. The lack of social and affordable housing stock and the escalating cost of living is making it more difficult for older people to have a safe and secure place to call home. Facing housing insecurity or homelessness is challenging at any age but for older citizens the impact can be severe and directly affect health. High rents and low incomes force older people into temporary, substandard conditions and into foregoing necessities like food and even medication.
An increasing number of vulnerable, older constituents and support service providers are contacting me about unaffordable and unsustainable housing costs, and the very long wait for social housing approvals and allocations. People are in financial distress, and facing administrative and eligibility barriers that exclude them from secure housing at the very time when they have limited income and increased costs associated with aging. Older tenants in the private market are reporting exorbitant rent rises or evictions to make way for higher paying tenants. I have advocated for many people over 55 who have been unable to secure affordable rental accommodation—people who have used all their savings and superannuation to supplement their rent until they face eviction.
I have heard the fear and distress of people who feel they have nowhere to turn, no options, and that the fight and struggle to simply survive is too much. Our older people should not feel that way. They should not be facing or experiencing homelessness or falling through gaps in support and service provision. I share two stories with the House. Marie is a 69-year-old woman who was made redundant in 2015 and who has been unable to find a job due to age discrimination. She drew down on her superannuation to cover medical expenses and now relies on the age pension. She cannot afford private rental, food, medication and basic living necessities, and had to leave Sydney due to housing costs.
She now moves between caravan parks where the length of stays is strictly limited, and she occasionally house-sits. With no home base, she feels unsafe and stressed. Her applications for priority social housing have been denied, despite complying with departmental requests for updated evidence of her unsustainable situation. But unless she is diagnosed with a significant disability or health impairment, Marie will have to wait 11 years to be eligible for priority housing. If she is lucky, she will be offered a property through the standard social housing register where the average wait time is 10 years.
Michael is an 81-year-old man who has been on the housing register for several years but was ineligible for priority social housing when he first applied. He has been a long-term resident in a small modest boarding house where he has a bedroom and shares access to a bathroom and kitchen with a diverse range of short‑term tenants. In the past year he was subjected to threats, abuse, assaults, antisocial behaviour and fraudulent withdrawals from his bank account. He was recently sent an eviction notice via text message, despite telling his real estate agent that he cannot manage a smart phone. Michael came to my office because he had nowhere to go, he did not know where he could get help and he felt like he could not fight anymore. Marie's and Michael's heartbreaking circumstances are alarmingly common. Our current approach and service provisions for older people do not provide the support that is needed.
The parliamentary inquiry into homelessness amongst older people aged over 55 in New South Wales was very welcomed by the sector and captured the complexity of homelessness among older people. Recommendations identified the need for a one-stop shop model to help older people facing housing insecurity before they reach crisis point. A model of early intervention with tailored support has been proven successful by Victoria's Home at Last program. I have repeatedly called on the Government to introduce a specialist model and to lower the current age for priority social housing from 80 years to ensure people get the support they need to prevent homelessness. New South Wales has the economic resources and a committed sector capable of reversing the trend in homelessness among older people, and other States have shown us how it can be done. It is our moral responsibility to do better.
Secure housing is the first line of defence in ensuring the health and wellbeing of older people. I call on the Government to urgently adopt all the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into homelessness among older people by urgently creating a specialist service similar to the Victorian Home at Last model, lowering the priority age for social housing from 80 to 55, and increasing affordable housing stock. Immediate action is vital to provide safe homes for our older members of our society. I thank Donna Brooks in my electorate office for working on this private member's statement and for the support she provides to so many who are facing homelessness within the Sydney community.