I want to speak truth to the richest nation in the world per head. Our older women have been recognised as the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia. Recent research from the Housing for the Aged Action Group found 240,000 women aged 55 or older and another 155,000 women aged 45 to 54 are at risk of homelessness. Older people who live in private rental housing are at even higher risk of becoming homeless. The Australian Bureau of Statistics states that homelessness exists when a dwelling is inadequate, has insecure tenure and does not allow control of access to space for social relations.
Increasingly unaffordable housing has added to the concerns about the circumstances and living situations of older people who do not own homes; have limited wealth and savings and, especially for women, low levels of superannuation; and do not have the benefit of living in social housing. Further, we know we have mothers and their children living in cars. What does this say about our priorities? How is a nation as wealthy as Australia even having a discussion on this issue?
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, homelessness has the following effects on children:
Preschool and school-aged children experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience mental health problems than housed children, and some evidence suggests that homeless children are more likely to have physical disability, emotional or behavioural problems than housed children … Homelessness can be disruptive to children’s education. It is associated with decreased engagement in the classroom and, when coupled with frequent school moves, is associated with poor academic achievement …
Teachers are reporting how, in the current situation we are facing with COVID, the classroom has become much more stressful for those without a roof over their heads.
How can a woman fleeing domestic violence protect her five-year-old son if she can’t put a roof over their heads? How can a parent support their 12-year-old daughter with homework if they can’t put a roof over their heads? How can a single mum of four kids stay connected to her much-loved and much-needed community support network if she can’t put a roof over their heads? How can you care for a sick or disabled relative if you can’t put a roof over their head? How can a middle-aged man with two young adult children engage in the workforce if he can’t put a roof over their heads? The difficulty for me here is that I’m actually talking about examples in my electorate. How can you even sleep, shower, wash clothes, cook a meal and stay warm and safe if you don’t have a roof over your head? Nations are judged on how they treat the most vulnerable in their societies. So how are we to be judged?
COVID related effects and consequences have caused a combination of Airbnb use domestically; rental property sales because of increased value of the property; relocation to the regions to get out of our capital cities; as we heard from the previous speaker, reduced public housing as compared to 10 years ago; and rental increases. All this combines against those who need a roof over their head.
We know that this government doesn’t hold the hammer. Federal governments don’t hold the hammer—not even in Indigenous affairs anymore. It’s all done by the states. I know the federal government and the previous Labor governments that I’ve seen have put money into the states for exactly these reasons. Then we have to ask the question: how is it that in this nation today, in 2021, I’ve got a woman in a small town in my electorate with four boys, closely connected to and supported and cherished by their community, who cannot find a house? Perhaps that’s my job.