McFerran said the official statistics – showing that women make up 44 per cent of the nation’s 105,000 homeless – underestimate the size of the problem.
“Older homeless women sleeping rough tend to hide. There are no targeted accommodation services available to them so it’s difficult to locate and count them,” she said.
McFerran, who interviewed 31 homeless women over 45 for the study, said their life experiences didn’t fit the typical “homeless” profile.
“One third of the women were once home owners, most had worked throughout their lives, raised children and endured abusive or difficult relationships. But in their fifties and sixties they became susceptible to a health crisis, or age discrimination at work, which resulted in difficulties keeping or finding employment,” said McFerran.
Entrenched financial disadvantage combined with the impact of housing trends and lack of family support put some older women at housing risk.
“What we need is a housing revolution in Australia – there needs to be more affordable single-person dwellings and we need to think differently about how we live,” said McFerran.
The study recommends a gender analysis of housing, homelessness and ageing policy to adequately understand the different experiences of men and women.
“Part of the problem is that we’ve stopped thinking about gender in policy making,” said McFerran. “Men and women age differently and we need to be aware of their differing needs to implement good policy decisions.”
It could be you: female, single, older and homeless was written in collaboration with Homelessness NSW, the Older Women’s Network NSW and the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.