The former Benevolent Society General Manager of Ageing Barbara Squires was an early changemaker in housing for older Australians space.
The former Benevolent Society General Manager of Ageing Barbara Squires was an early changemaker in housing for older Australians space. Sam Mooy

Reflections of housing changemaker Barbara Squires

BARBARA Squires has seen important changes during the years that she has worked on looking for contemporary housing options for older Australians.

In the last 10 years since this changemaker fought a hard battle to introduce into Australia the Apartments for Life (AFL) housing model, an evolution in thinking around housing options has been happening.

While working as General Manager Ageing for the Benevolent Society, Ms Squires threw herself into making the AFL model a reality.

Driving her passion for the project was her deep insight to the issues of housing after nearly 40 years working with older Australians.

"It's a disgrace," she said. "Affordable housing for the whole of Australia is in such a dreadful state, but particularly for older people. Older renters are incredibly disadvantaged group.

"It's a cause that is dear to my heart."

The AFL model, based on the work of the Dutch Humanitas Foundation which has 15 sites in Rotterdam, proposed making it possible for older people to remain in their self-contained accommodation, which was designed to accommodate changing needs, even when their health declined and they required increased health and home support. Underpinning the AFL approach was encouraging older people to remain in control of their lives, be in proximity to critical services and be able to continue to participate in their community.

A site in Sydney's Bondi was identified for the mixed social and private housing, but then urban planning issues ultimately made the project economically unfeasible and local resident opposition was the final unscalable hurdle.

"Things have changed mercifully and moved on," Ms Squires said. "One of the best outcomes of the project was that it actually got people in the Aged Care and retirement housing sector thinking. It challenged them a lot."

Up until then it was considered the norm that when an older person needed more care they were moved into lo-care and then hi-care.

"It's much more an accepted concept now that you shouldn't have to move; it shouldn't be an automatic assumption that you have to move when we you become frailer," she said.

"Increasingly there are projects around that have more of the (AFL) elements because most of the work we did on that planning was around 2010," Ms Squires said. "Time has moved on".

Ms Squires has just turned 70 and is "officially retired", but that doesn't mean she has stopped using her lived experiences to lend a hand in the evolution of housing choices.

The former president of the Australian Association of Gerontology is back there in a board role. She also holds membership of the board of Home Modifications Australia which is an advocacy group for home modification providers for the aged and people with disabilities, the Ageing on the Edge Forum (NSW) and the advisory group to the University of Technology Sydney project Kickstarting Collaborative Housing.

"I keep my hand in with these things," she said. "I'd be very happy to be on other advisory groups; I'd be willing to take on a bit more of that on a volunteer basis."

Her hope for the future is to see older Australians taking control of their health management and life choices. "I think the whole issue of becoming invisible and being devalued by general society is rather sad," she said.

"So, finding opportunities to contribute, generally in a volunteer role and being taken seriously as someone who has still got worthwhile things to contribute; to me that is probably one of the most important things."

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