March 19 - 25  2023: Issue 576


calls to address growing homelessness among our seniors a high priority for independent candidates in 2023 state election + government's response to homelessness among older people in NSW Inquiry

Dini Liyanarachchi, Advocacy Lead at Housing for the Aged Action Group, Jacqui Scruby, Alex Greenwich MP, Victoria Davidson and Joeline Hackman. Photo supplied
Residents across our area will have seen older men sleeping in early morning sun in parks, in sand dunes, and on beaches across our area in recent years and a growing number in recent months. Around them they have a few bags or a backpack and sleep on despite the activity and noise around them. Their clothes are dirty and hang from their limbs - clearly they have not eaten for days. Similarly their skin is stained with grime, they have had no access to facilities others take for granted. Their hair, grey with age, is bedraggled, has not been afforded the benefit of a comb, let alone a barber.

It is clear these Seniors are homeless - one grey haired and grey bearded gentleman seen in February 2023 in Dunbar Park, Avalon Beach, sleeping, looked ill.

Older women are also seen, some sleeping in cars by dawn surfers - others are found in local car parks. Many are not seen, but they are here, keeping themselves hidden.

Our history points what is now happening back to the 1930's when so many who were experiencing evictions during that economic depression pitched a tent in local parks or bushland areas, or inhabited a cave along our beaches and fished to feed their families. 

There were approx. 37,000 people experiencing homelessness in NSW on the night of the 2016 Census.  This was an increase of 37% and far higher than the national increase of 14%.

The ABS advises ''Estimating homelessness: Census - Estimates of people experiencing homelessness from the Census, Reference period 2021'' will be released Wednesday 22 March 2023 11:30am AEDT.

On Tuesday 24th of January 2023 the Australian Government's Productivity Commission released its 'Report on Government Services 2023' which under Section G, 'Housing and homelessness'.  

The data states an estimated 68, 473 people in NSW had support provided to them through specialist homelessness services. However, 48.2% of people who asked for accommodation assistance from specialist homelessness services in the 2020-2021 financial year were not or could not be helped. 

NSW's unmet demand for homelessness services had been increasing alarmingly prior to the pandemic, jumping 4.7 percentage points to 41.9% in 2017-2018 and similarly to 45.2% the following year.

The data states the number of people seeking accommodation assistance from homelessness services in NSW remains steady at between 46,072 and 47,652 people a year over the past five years. The Report shows the state’s investment in homelessness services has remained flat, at an average of $34.96 a person, per support day.

Women and children experiencing domestic and family violence remain highest among those seeking help, with, nationally, 39.4% of people contacting these services citing domestic and family violence as an underlying cause of their need.

Of low income households that were CRA recipients at the end of June 2022, 71.9 per cent would have experienced rental stress without CRA (table GA.13). With CRA, 43.9 per cent still experienced rental stress (figure G.2). For those who do have access to social or affordable housing, rental stress, or spending more than 30% of gross household income on rent, is an ongoing issue, with low income earners particularly susceptible to housing instability in the private sector. The report noted that even for those people receiving CRA payments, 45.7% still experience rental stress.

Total Australian, State and Territory government recurrent expenditure for social housing and specialist homelessness services was $5.9 billion in 2021‑22 (tables 18A.1 and 19A.1), an increase of 1.9 per cent from 2020-21. For the 2020-21 financial year (the most recent financial year for which data are available across all sections), this represented around 1.8 per cent of total government expenditure covered in this Report. 

The Australian Government share of this expenditure was $1.7 billion in 2021‑22 (table GA.1). Social housing services accounted for $4.6 billion (table 18A.1) and specialist homelessness services for $1.3 billion (table 19A.1).

Australian Government expenditure on Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA)2 — the largest government private rental assistance program — was $4.9 billion in 2021‑22, down from a 5 year high of $5.5 billion in 2020-21 (table GA.5).

Waiting times for public or community housing available have previously been reported as varying between three months and more than five years, depending on location and individual circumstances of the applicant.

The report also states the impact of COVID-19 on data for the Housing and homelessness sector may affect data in this Report in a number of ways. For the Housing and homelessness sector overview, income support and rent freezes, along with NSW implementation of accommodation for rough sleepers due to the impacts of COVID-19 are associated with a reduction in the proportion of Commonwealth Rental Assistance (CRA) recipients experiencing rental stress at end June 2020 and an increase in CRA expenditure in 2020-21.

The Productivity Commission Report only analysed known demand; ergo, people who have sought homelessness services and had that need for accommodation identified, drawn from unpublished data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and therefore does not capture those in the community who may have been unidentified as in need of assistance.

In August 2022 the NSW Legislative Council commenced an Inquiry, 'Homelessness amongst older people aged over 55 in New South Wales'

Chaired by Nationals MLC, The Hon Scott Barrett MLC, the Standing Committee on Social Issues Terms of Reference Inquiry into and report on homelessness amongst older people aged over 55 in New South Wales, included; the rate of homelessness, factors affecting the incidence of homelessness, opportunities for early intervention to prevent homelessness, services to support older people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including housing, assistance, social housing and specialist homelessness services, challenges that older people experience navigating homelessness services, examples of best-practice approaches in Australia and internationally to prevent and address homelessness amongst older people, options to better support older people to obtain and maintain secure accommodation and avoid  homelessness, the adequacy of the collection of data on older people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and opportunities to improve such collection, the impact of homelessness on the health and wellbeing of older people and the related costs to the health system, the specific impact of homelessness, including the matters raised above, on older women, the impact of homelessness, including the increased risk of homelessness in the community, on older people in vulnerable groups, and any other related matter.

The Report from this, released on October 20th 2022, made 40 Recommendations.

The Hon Scott Barrett MLC, Chair of the Committee, said 'Homelessness amongst older people is a particularly sad story, yet unfortunately the rate of homelessness amongst this cohort are increasing.  Consequently, the 'face' of homelessness across the state is changing to include older people, particularly women, who are sleeping in increasingly precarious situations, such as couch surfing among friends and family or sleeping in their cars.'

The Chair said: 'While a confluence of factors drive homelessness amongst older people, the primary drivers are financial difficulty, housing crisis and housing affordability stress. Moreover, the committee found that the shortfall in social and affordable housing is the single greatest challenge for people who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. To this end, the committee has made a suite of recommendations to improve the quantity and quality of social housing across the state.'

Mr Barrett continued, 'Stakeholders told the committee the homelessness service system is incredibly complex and that trying to traverse its many facets is overwhelming for older people. To alleviate some of these issues, the committee has recommended a multifaceted approach to service delivery, including that the NSW Government consider the establishment of a funded specialist housing information and support service for older people that comprises both an early intervention and crisis response, similar to the 'Home at Last' model in Victoria. It has also made a suite of recommendations designed to streamline and improve the service delivery system, and to improve prevention and early intervention services, including Link2Home.'

The Chair concluded: 'This inquiry has resulted in a consensus report, reflecting not only the importance of this issue but the common goal of this committee to ensure action to improve the lives of older people at risk of or experiencing homelessness into the future.'

To address what it termed 'the single greatest challenge' Recommendation 21 was 'That the NSW Government investigate the costs and implications of lowering the age limit for access to the Housing Elderly Persons priority group from 80 years to 55 years, and from 55 years to 45 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.'

During the Inquiry Stakeholders directed the committee's attention to the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) 2020-21 data for New South Wales published by the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, including:

  • 5,216 older people accessed SHS
  • despite a small decrease in the overall service use rate from the previous year, 31 requests for assistance went unmet each day
  • the rate of older people accessing SHS increased from 6.2 per 10,000 in 2019-20 to 6.4 per 10,000 in 2020-21.

On January 1st 2023 the incumbent government response was published wherein Recommendation 21 was 'noted'. The government response, in full, was ''Noted - Changes to the eligibility criteria to preference one group must be carefully assessed to ensure they do not inadvertently discriminate against other vulnerable groups. Over a third of priority applicant households already include people aged 55 or over, or 45 and over if Aboriginal. This shows that the current policy triages vulnerable and at-risk older people who have an urgent need for housing assistance, in line with the overall share of these households on the NSW Housing Register (30%). Priority applicants include those who have overlapping risk factors and an urgent housing need, including people with a severe and ongoing medical condition, people with disability, people experiencing domestic and family violence, people at risk of assault, abuse or neglect, and/or people experiencing homelessness. ''

To Recommendation 12; 'That the NSW Government investigate targeted rent assistance and brokerage funds for older people.' the government's response was ''Noted - Rent Choice is a form of private rental assistance that supports several vulnerable cohorts experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness to access safe and affordable housing in the private rental market. It provides a time limited, tapered private rental subsidy for up to three years and facilitates access to support, training and employment opportunities needed to sustain independent housing without the need for ongoing government assistance. Although Rent Choice products are not targeted at older people specifically, they are accessible to this cohort if they meet the necessary criteria.'

The criteria for Rent Choice is:

  • Rent Choice Start Safely supports people who don't have a stable and secure place to live because of domestic or family violence.
  • Rent Choice Youth helps people aged 16 to 24 who are homeless, or are at risk of homelessness.
  • Rent Choice Veterans applies to former members of the permanent Australian Defence Force (ADF) who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. 
  • Rent Choice Assist supports households that have experienced a major financial setback such as illness or job loss. It's available for eligible clients in Blacktown, Campbelltown, Hurstville and the Newcastle/Lake Macquarie area.

It was widely acknowledged by stakeholders that older people find accessing homelessness services overwhelming and difficult. The committee heard that this was in part due to the structure of the services system which Community Housing Limited referred to as 'fragmented, poorly resources and unable to provide long-term solutions.' 

Inquiry participants also noted that personal impediments, including a lack of digital literacy and feelings of embarrassment, make navigating the service system complicated for older people. There was consensus that the most effective solution to this predicament was the establishment of a Specialist Homelessness Service specifically for older people.

As a result, Recommendation 5  was 'That the NSW Government consider the establishment of a funded specialist housing information and support service for older people that comprises both an early intervention and crisis response, similar to the 'Home at Last' model in Victoria.'

The government's response was again; 'Noted - NSW’s Link2Home is a statewide homelessness information and referral telephone service available to anyone at risk of or experiencing homelessness, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Link2Home provides callers with information, assessments and referrals to homelessness support and accommodation services across NSW. Link2Home is accessible to older people. In the 2021-2022 financial year data, Link2Home registered 7,144 instances of clients aged 55 years and over, who contacted the line for assessment, specialist homeless support and accommodation assistance. Public consultations and action planning will take place to develop the next NSW social housing and homelessness strategies in 2023-24, that will include consideration of possible new programs and initiatives. '

In 2020-21 31 requests for assistance by our Seniors went unmet every single day. 

You can see some of this 31 on our streets after sunset, walking around despite being exhausted but anxious to appear quite normal until everyone else is off the streets, looking at all the warm and lit houses, thinking, 'wouldn't it be nice if I could just go in there for a little while, have some sleep, have some privacy and dignity'.

At dawn you can see some of that 31 sleeping in our local parks, laying in the just rising sun to thaw out frozen skin and bones.

This week seven New South Wales Independent candidates and MPs for the upcoming 223 state election have called on any incoming state government to address homelessness among older people by:

  • introducing a specialist housing support service for older people.
  • lowering the priority age from 80 years; and
  • building more social and affordable housing

The independents, Alex Greenwich MP, Dr Joe McGirr MP, Phil Donato MP, Joeline Hackman, Jacqui Scruby, Helen Conway and Victoria Davidson have thrown their support behind the recommendations put forward by the NSW Ageing on the Edge Forum and endorsed by the NSW parliamentary inquiry into homelessness amongst older people aged over 55.

“The Government should urgently adopt all the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into homelessness amongst older people aged over 55 and build more social and community housing,” Mr. Greenwich says.

“Secure housing is the first line of defence in ensuring the health and wellbeing of older people. I have called on the Government to lower the age for priority social housing from 80 years and introduce a specialist support model like the Victorian ‘Home at Last’ service to ensure older people get the support they need to prevent homelessness.”

NSW Ageing on the Edge Forum is a coalition of about 140 members and supporters, including housing, homelessness and community sector organisations, peak bodies, and older people who know what it’s like to be in housing crisis.

Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) coordinates the Forum and Executive Officer Fiona York says urgent action is required. The inquiry heard from many older people, particularly older women, who are struggling to find homes, couch-surfing, languishing in inappropriate accommodation, or waiting almost 10 years to access social housing.

“With rents in New South Wales sky high and vacancy rates low, too many older people are struggling find a home,” York says.

“There are 240,000 older people over 55 living in private rentals in New South Wales, and almost 120,000 are on low or very low incomes. They face increased risk of homelessness as they age as a result. That represents a big problem, but we have the solutions.

“A housing crisis and support service like Home at Last would prevent many older people from falling into homelessness in the first place. If the government were to build more social housing and lower the priority age far fewer older people would be couch surfing or waiting years for social housing."

Jacqui Scruby, Independent candidate for Pittwater, stated  “You hear too many stories of people aged over 55 sleeping in cars along the Northern Beaches. We are a compassionate community who knows we should support older people to make sure they have homes. I call on the government to adopt the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into homelessness. We need a specialist older peoples' housing service and to lower the age for priority housing as a start.”

Joeline Hackman, Independent candidate for Manly said, “With more than 110,000 older women at risk of homelessness in NSW, I call on the NSW government to implement the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into homelessness amongst older people. With a rental affordability crisis like never seen before, the government must support the most vulnerable in our community.”

Helen Conway, Independent candidate for North Shore, stated  "NSW has a growing housing crisis - rising trends of homelessness, housing rental stress and insecurity and a lack of social and affordable housing. I know from my experience as the President and Chair of the YWCA that we need urgent investment in social and affordable housing. The NSW government should take the lead here and not outsource this responsibility to developers. If elected, I will hold the government of the day to account to deliver a comprehensive strategy for housing in NSW including clear targets for increasing the supply of social and affordable housing."

Victoria Davidson, Independent candidate for Lane Cove, said, “The increase of homelessness in older women is extremely concerning and needs urgent action. Investing money in targeted services now, ensures these women can thrive, not just survive.”

People over 50 are the largest voter group in NSW, representing 34% of the total NSW population or 2.9 million people. In COTA NSW's 2023 delve into what Seniors are focussed on, which many haven't heard much about so far from anyone other than the above candidates, they found that while most respondents to their research owned their own home (82%), homelessness and the lack of social housing were a concern for all age groups in all areas. 

Many expressed frustration and alarm that these issues had still not been addressed more effectively and called for more investment and a solutions focussed approach. 

When the Committee's Report was released Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) coordinates the Forum and Executive Officer Fiona York said the government’s response is a missed opportunity to address the growing number of older people in New South Wales falling into homelessness.

“The NSW Government doesn’t believe that a 79-year-old woman in housing crisis deserves a spot on the priority housing list,” York said

“This decision comes at a time when it routinely takes longer than five years, and often more than 10 years, for people on social housing waitlists in New South Wales to get a home.

“We’re shocked that after the Inquiry found that older people in housing crisis were slipping through the cracks, the government would not support the Inquiry’s recommendations to provide them with additional help.”

The government not supporting the Inquiry’s recommendation that it develop a specialist housing and support service for older people that would provide both early intervention and a crisis response was also  underline by HAAG. In Victoria people over 55 are considered a priority for social housing and have access to an information and support service specific and targeted to their needs. Given the success of the model, it was adopted in Queensland.

“The harsh truth is if you’re an older person in housing crisis in New South Wales, then you’re worse off than those in a similar situation in Victoria,” Ms York said.

Information about the 'Homelessness amongst older people aged over 55 in New South Wales' inquiry, including the committee's report and the government's response, is available on the committee's webpage.

COTA NSW's release - run last Issue, is available below.

Local services + emergency aid

A number of key services are listed below. For more information on any of the details listed please contact the services directly.

Homeless Outreach

Community Northern Beaches; 52 Raglan St, Manly Ph: 9977 1066

Mission Australia, Ph: 9949 1832

St Vincent de Paul, Ph: 13 18 12

Crisis Accommodation;Link2Home, Ph: 1800 152 152

Mission Australia (Ebbs House), 174 Old Pittwater Rd, Brookvale Ph: 9902 5100

Women and Children First (formerly Manly Warringah Women's Resource Centre),Ph: 9971 4499

Northern Beaches Women’s Resource Centre, Ph: 9977 7772

Mental Health Support;

Lifeline, Ph: 13 11 14

From The COTA NSW CEO: People Over 50 Largest Voter Group In NSW

There are only 2 weeks until the people of NSW vote for their next government. Many are saying it is too tough to call. Others are saying it is going to fall one way or another. For COTA NSW what really matters is that the barriers to positive ageing are removed - whoever gets elected.

Last week a small group of COTA NSW members met to discuss NSW State election and help launch our election platform, Listen Up! They were seeking to meaningfully contribute to political discourse and to be taken seriously.

People over 50 represent the largest voter group in the NSW electorate representing 34% of the total NSW population or 2.9 million people. We are a diverse group and although many of us don’t consider ourselves old, systemic ageism means that we are often excluded from meaningful contribution and opportunities. 

Based on our extensive engagement and research, older voters in the upcoming NSW election are most likely to be influenced by integrity in government, care for the environment and funding for essential services such as hospitals, education, transport and housing. They are also concerned about community connections and the “digital first” approach that government is taking.

Access and affordability of specialists continues to be a key health concern among older voters, particularly in regional and remote NSW and among people aged 50-59. Dental health, public hospital waiting times, appropriate exercise programs and mental health services were other main areas that were issues of importance. Poor public hospital experiences- particularly for those with cognitive impairment is a major concern.

Most older people felt it is vital to prepare for the transition to retirement in a wholistic way, encompassing financial, legal and social planning.

While most respondents to our research owned their own home (82%), homelessness and the lack of social housing were a concern for all age groups in all areas. Many expressed frustration and alarm that these issues had not been addressed more effectively and called for more investment and a solutions focussed approach. 

Social Isolation continues to be a major concern, particularly in the light of COVID restrictions and the proliferation of natural disasters. Corresponding with previous COTA NSW research, isolation was nominated as a priority by more people in the 50-59 age group than older groups.

Our election platform isn't just a list of everything that is going wrong for older people. It is packed with solutions that helps make ageing a time of possibility, opportunity and influence. 

Vote wisely and enjoy the celebration of democracy on March 25th with a sausage sizzle or cup cake. 

Marika Kontellis