Rent forcing at risk seniors into homelessness

LACK of rental affordability is a key factor leading to a rise in homelessness and at risk seniors.

Chair of the Gold Coast Homelessness Network, Mona Nielsen, said support services were experiencing more inquiries than ever from older residents.

Many seniors were living rough, forced into couch-surfing with friends or going without food or electricity just to keep a roof over their heads.

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With 27% of the Gold Coast population now over 60, the community needed to understand the pressures on that older population living longer and literally running out of money.

How to address those issues was the focus of last month's 14th annual Gold Coast Homelessness Symposium.

The Gold Coast has the third-highest rent in Australia, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, Mona said.

"Seniors do come here to retire, but if you have a mortgage or rental and your partner passes away or you lose a job or have health problems, it can be hard to cope and you can be put in danger of homelessness," she said.

If you don't have savings, "particularly if you are a Senior on your own, the reality is you can't afford to rent on the Gold Coast"; the pension alone simply isn't enough.

GROWING PROBLEM: Gold Coast Homelessness Network chair Mona Nielsen said that with people living longer, Seniors are literally running out of money.
GROWING PROBLEM: Gold Coast Homelessness Network chair Mona Nielsen said that with people living longer, Seniors are literally running out of money.

While My Aged Care, was created by the Australian Government to help people "find information about aged care services and what you need to do to receive them", Mona said it was generally acknowledged not to be user-friendly.

Even services found it difficult at times to navigate, never mind individuals unfamiliar with the system, using computers or accessing bureaucracy.

"Many of these people are in a position where they have never been forced to seek help before," Mona said.

"Most have been employed and managed their lives well, but in homelessness we say you are only ever two steps away - it only takes a couple of things to knock us."

The symposium heard from two guest speakers who shared their lived experience of homelessness.

Both had been in good jobs, but through unforeseen changes in circumstance had found themselves unable to afford their properties, homeless and having to seek community housing.

"We never thought it would happen to us ... but it can," was their message.

For Seniors in particular, Mona said, the prospect of homelessness could be particularly daunting, mixed with feelings of pride, guilt, shame, loss of community and sense of belonging.

Their needs could be complicated by problems of health or memory loss, and often, even when they reached out for help, demand meant people waited long periods just to be assessed.

But there are positive steps being taken, with the Department of Housing and community housing providers now realising that they need to provide purpose-built or renovated Seniors-focussed housing, on the ground floor, without steps, and with handrails and access to facilities.

In Roma, a program is currently taking place developing a purpose-built over-50s public housing community where everything is on site, similar to expensive commercial developments.

The Palaszczuk Government has promised almost $8 million in general Homelessness Program funding to seven support services on the Gold Coast for 2018-19, is building 392 new social homes on the Coast over five years and assists with bond loans and rental grants.

But Mona said the homelessness issue, particularly for Seniors, needed more than money.

"We need to think strategically, to supply more affordable accommodation, more appropriate accommodation for Seniors and support around each individual before they become homeless, because there is no one solution fits all - their needs are all different."

Go to, phone 1800200422, speak with your GP or contact AusCare, Uniting Care or the Salvation Army if you need help.

The latter services are also grateful for volunteers or any donations of food or gift cards to help the homeless.

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