The hidden truth in homelessness stats

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There’s an invisible epidemic occurring among homeless women in western Sydney, and it stems from a fear of appearing vulnerable.

Older women are the fastest growing group experiencing homelessness, but western Sydney service providers said it’s hard to provide support if they don’t come forward about their situation.

At a Homelessness Hub in Penrith last Wednesday morning, service providers said older women aren’t as high profile in western Sydney because they aren’t typically found on the streets.

“We’re not seeing a huge increase in women out in the western suburbs because they’re not on the actual streets as rough sleepers,” Chris Cleary of StreetMed said.

“Women also don’t come forward as easily as they fear it will make themselves more vulnerable.”

Ms Cleary said in their experience, women have a better support network than men, and can find themselves in other people’s homes much easier.

While they aren’t technically ‘rough sleepers’ they are still considered homeless, but are in turn kept out of the eye of frontline services. But while it’s harder for local frontline services to see first hand, it is no less an issue in homelessness, growing quicker than other ages and genders.

Melissa Grah-McIntosh from the Heading Home Ending Homelessness campaign, said there are a number of additional complexities around homelessness in older women.

“Whether it’s because they’ve become single, or they don’t have superannuation, or deeper issues around equal pay in the workforce… there’s a concerning increase in the number of women experiencing homelessness, and anecdotally our case workers are finding that,” she said.

St Vincent de Paul Society NSW CEO, Jack de Groot, said these experiences also mean that women are more likely to experience poverty than men.

“Many women spent long periods of time without regular employment while raising their children and, as a result, they have much less superannuation to draw on,” he said.

“They are also usually in lower paid jobs and now, as they face failing health, redundancy or retirement, they find they can no longer afford to pay escalating rents in the private rental market.”

The Homelessness Hub is held at The Joan in Penrith in August and November each year.

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