Homelessness Week 2020

New South Wales is facing a homelessness crisis with burgeoning numbers of marginalised people sleeping rough and couch surfing. This is evident in our cities and our towns. Indeed, we see it on street corners in this very beautiful and affluent city. In my role as shadow Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence community organisations tell me of this increasing need. The fastest growing group of homeless people is women over the age of 50. Services are being inundated yet there are no long-term solutions.

Between 2011 and 2016 the number of homeless women over 55 increased by 31 per cent and from 2012 to 2018 the number of women accessing homeless services grew by 63 per cent.

According to the 2016 census New South Wales has the highest number of older homeless women. Many of these women have been victims of domestic violence and abuse. They are often single women who now find themselves unable to provide a roof over their heads. It is well known that women generally earn less than their male counterparts throughout their working lives, as they are the primary carers for children and often elderly parents as well. Women end their working lives with far less superannuation. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the 2017-18 financial year the median superannuation account balance for an Australian women was $45,000 compared to $65,000 for men, and the average superannuation at retirement for women is $157,000 while it is $270,000 for men.

It is widely recognised that women have borne the brunt of this pandemic crisis, yet the Government has no plan to address the disproportionate financial impact of the bushfires and pandemic on women in this State. The ongoing shortage of affordable housing, an ageing population, the gender pay gap, the lack of affordable and accessible child care, the inequity of superannuation, the insecurity of work, a lack of support for small, home-based businesses, an increase in family and domestic violence and an array of other issues all disproportionately hurt and impact women. The failure of government to invest in women economically and socially will ensure that the growing trend of older women becoming homeless will only increase as their economic independence and stability is continually undermined by a system that refuses to support them.

Poverty and domestic violence are the two biggest drivers of this crisis, but this picture is not just about numbers. It is about real women's lives. I want to talk about Francine, a 70-year-old woman who retrained as a social worker later in life. She is a single woman who still works two days a week. Her income just puts her above the threshold for social housing; therefore, she is facing ongoing housing insecurity in the private rental market. She does not have family to call on should she become homeless. Francine faces increasing stress and anxiety as she ponders how long she can continue to work and support herself. She told me that she feels desperate.

Every way you look at it, every way you cut it, women miss out—women and insecure work, child care, education, rural and regional women, women in small business, unpaid labour, women as carers and disadvantaged communities. I call on the Government to particularly recognise the plight of older women who are experiencing homelessness. I also call on the Premier to commit to long-term housing solutions and other responses to prevent homelessness. I recognise the many heroes of the homeless and domestic violence sectors and their peak bodies. I acknowledge long-term advocate and president of the Australian Services Union, Narelle Clay. I recognise also the many tenancy advocates and their agencies across this State, including Ben from the Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre in my electorate.

I congratulate Homelessness NSW for its tireless advocacy, community education and support roles. Thanks to all my Blue Mountains neighbourhood centres and family support services that deal with this vulnerability every day, and the exceptional Wimlah refuge team. All of those organisations are at the front line of one of the hardest issues facing our community. I thank my colleague Jo Haylen, the member for Summer Hill, for her work with me on this important issue in her roles as shadow Minister for Seniors and Volunteers. I am sure that Madam Deputy Speaker would agree that adequate housing is a basic human right; without it we deny citizens of their dignity and participation in our democracy. To all of those people who are homeless, or at risk of being homeless, I say as someone who as a young child lived in a car with her mother, brothers and sisters for a period of time without the roof of a home over our heads, we see you, we hear you and we care.