Why are more older women becoming homeless?
Tuesday, August 22, 2017 - 20:30

This week on Insight, we reveal the true extent of a hidden issue: women and homelessness. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows the number of women over 55 accessing support for homelessness is increasing at a faster rate than it is for men. Experts say this is a growing problem that should be getting urgent attention from policy makers.

Support services say women in this age group are more likely to be the hidden homeless; not sleeping rough on the street but house-sitting, couch-surfing, living in cars or moving between their friends’ and children’s homes.

Many of these women have led ‘traditional’ lives - they’ve been employed most of their life, raised children, cared for ageing parents and paid taxes. But as they age, their health deteriorates, work opportunities slow and rents rise, they find themselves unable to afford a roof over their head. Our guests explain how it could happen to anyone.

We meet 73-year-old Di Hill who separated from her husband of 43 years in 2010 and has been renting ever since. She recently ran out of money and can’t afford private rent on the pension. She says she has no choice but to use the last of her savings to buy an old campervan and live in that.

And 66-year-old Christine Kent, who describes herself as a sane, middle-class, educated woman who has worked all her life. She says private rents have risen to the point where they’re unaffordable so she’s been house-sitting and couch-surfing for the past five years. She says the constant moving has taken its toll and she’s desperate for affordable housing solutions for women in her age group.

And we get to know 55-year-old Kath, who has been living in her car for two-and-a-half years and often sleeping in cemeteries at night after injuries prevented her from working.

This week on Insight, the stories of the increasing  number of older women on the edge. 




Support Services 


NSW:  Link2Home – 1800 152 152

ACT:   Canberra Emergency Accomodation Service – (02) 6257 2333

QLD:   Homeless Persons Information – 1800 474 753

VIC:   Housing support – 1800 825 955

SA:   Homelessness Gateway – 1800 003 308

TAS:   Homeless Support Helpline – 1800 800 588

WA:  Entrypoint Perth - 1800 124 684 or Crisis Care - 1800 199 008

NT:   http://www.shelterme.org.au/ to connect with specific services or Dawn House for Women escaping Domestic violence - (08) 8945 1388





DI:  Okay, would you like to have a look in my new home? Come on in. This is where I'll be living, this is my bedroom, my pillows, I've got blankets, I've got spare blankets down there if it gets really cold.  Because I'm tall, I actually make a bed across and I sleep that way. I can sit and work on my computer.  Okay, well this is the command centre, this is where I will be sitting in the driver's seat obviously, GPS, camera. 


I would like to have a home of my own, gardening's the thing, I love gardening and it's not really possible to do with this. However, I'm not the only one that feels that this is the only option for housing.  This is my wardrobe, well there's my leather jacket- that might keep me warm and in here's my shower and toilet but I think that's all you need to know. We're not going in there today. 


I've done a few crazy adventurous things in my life so I don't intend to stop doing those sort of things now.  I never thought I would be in this position. In fact, you really don't know what you fit your holes and suddenly there's a curve ball and you go in another direction, yeah. 




JENNY BROCKIE:  Di, welcome. 


DI:  Thank you. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And thank you for sharing your campervan with us. You're 73, when did you start living in a campervan? 


DI:  Um, I actually bought it, I think, about March, but I was renting a property and I waited till the lease was up and then moved into the van, but I didn't stay there very long, I was offered a house, a couple of house sits, you know, straight away. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Are you living in the van now? 


DI:  Yes, absolutely. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Why?  Why have you reached the point where you have to live in a van? 


DI:  Well, I was paying 70 percent of my income on rent.  Sorry. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Are you okay? 


DI:  I'm okay. I just, I was going backwards, couldn't see that there was a future so I thought I'll live in a van.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Why are you in that situation? 


DI:  Um, I left my husband in 2010. Long story but it was brewing for quite a while. I got no money out of it, I think after 43 years of marriage I got about $8,000. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  $8,000? 


DI:  Mm-mmm. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Why so little? 


DI:  I don't know what happened to it. Um, so I set off house sitting, which I did for two years and went back to university and did a Masters while I couldn't, I couldn't work, it was difficult to get work. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of work were you looking for? 


DI:  I was an English teacher, English as a second language. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And you couldn't get work? 


DI:  House sitting, you're moving around, it's not quite so easy to…


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you're not in a stable place? 


DI:  And at my age.


JENNY BROCKIE:  So what do you live off at the moment?  What are you relying on for money? 


DI:  I do have some small savings but the pension. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you feel like you have other choices or not? 


DI:  No. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you feel like you don't have other choices? 


DI:  I didn't qualify for public housing, I had just a bit too much money but not enough to buy a house and of all the agencies, you know, they'll give me psychologist and support and everything but no housing.  It's very hard to get in. There's an eight year waiting list anyway.


JENNY BROCKIE:  How do you feel about your situation at the moment? 


DI:  I'm hopeful life will change.  Maybe my novel, if I finish it, will be a best seller, working on that.  


JENNY BROCKIE:  And will you be on the move or are you going to try and stay in one place? 


DI:  Well basically I'll stay in Brisbane, I like visiting different places so, and I discovered free camps too.  You don't have to pay to stay so there are many free camps around Australia and you just pull up and enjoy the scenery, stay the night and move on. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Christine, you're 66, where do you live? 


CHRISTINE: I'm currently living in a beautiful beach house in, um, waterfront house sitting. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And how long will that last for? 


CHRISTINE: Till this weekend. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What happens after that? 


CHRISTINE: Um, I have another house sit tee'd up for further down the coast. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So is that what you do, you just move from one house sit to another? 


CHRISTINE: That's what I've been doing for a few years. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And why are you doing that rather than trying to rent somewhere or get some other? 


CHRISTINE: There's nowhere liveable that I can afford on the pension. So you can just maybe find a place somewhere between 200 and $250 rent, but it will be crawling with pests and riddled with damp and with undesirable neighbours.  At this stage I'm refusing to admit that I have no choices left. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Why are you refusing to admit that? 


CHRISTINE: Because I would die very quickly in those conditions. If you're not very well, which I'm not, you can't sit and look at four walls, particularly if they're damp, and so maybe young people can live in those conditions long term but an older person can't. I did have myself on the Victorian housing list, I've got myself on the New South Wales housing list, and I have been told that until I'm actually in physical danger, until I'm actually sleeping in a park, they cannot prioritise me for housing and it's about a ten year waiting list.


JENNY BROCKIE:  How did you get to point where you need to house sit to have a roof over your head? 


CHRISTINE: I was never able to accumulate money because I lived my life managing fibromyalgia and so although I was employed in fairly well paid work, I could only ever work part-time. I contracted so that I didn't have to take long contracts, I didn't have to work for long periods of time.


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what work were you doing, what sort of work? 


CHRISTINE: I was a technical writer and an instructional designer. So I wrote either training materials or computer support materials for people.


JENNY BROCKIE:  How did the fibromyalgia affect you in terms of your capacity to work? 


CHRISTINE: It didn't affect my capacity to do the job I was doing, I was always good at that.  It affected my capacity to relate to my co-workers and bosses. Because when you're walking around in permanent pain, maybe you're a little bit less tolerant of other people than would be desirable in a corporate environment. That's putting it politely. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So how did this snowball, this situation, where you got to a point where you could no longer afford rent or you couldn't afford to have your own place? 


CHRISTINE: It, it crept up on me because I kept thinking I was going to be able to work my way through it.  I don't think I confronted just how serious this situation was. I think it's only very recently that the housing at the bottom of the market has become out of reach and so about ten years ago I could afford the bottom of the market rental, but I can no longer afford the bottom of the market rental. Housing prices have inflated so dramatically that they've left even low income earners behind, let alone pensioners. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Have you ever owned property in your life?  




JENNY BROCKIE:  Di, when did money start becoming a problem for you? 


DI:  Oh, probably on and off in a way throughout our lives. We didn't save. We regularly visited our family which cost us a lot of money, my parents were in Adelaide, my husband's parents were in Melbourne. We just didn't save very much. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you were spenders? 


DI:  We were spenders. We put our children through private schools. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you have housing plans in your own mind after you separated? 


DI:  We've had a house twice.  We'd been in business and it didn't work so we sold and the few years later bought again. Um, we've, we should have had more money. I, I don't know exactly what happened to it all, that's all I'm saying. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you have housing plans when you separated from your husband? Did you think about what you were going to do and where you were going to live? 


DI:  I knew when I left that I would have nothing. I, I just was extremely distressed and I couldn't, I was also suicidal at that point because I saw no future for me. I just wanted to run away and start all over again. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And do you think of yourself as homeless now? 


DI:  Yes, but I do laugh about it in a sense. Just the way I deal with it. I would like to have, you know, a permanent house and so from that point of view I am homeless.  But I do have a roof over my head, even though it's a small one and not much room to move, but I know people are in worse situations than I am. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Christine, do you see yourself as homeless? 




JENNY BROCKIE:  What's that like? 


CHRISTINE: Um, well, frightening. Um, I, I'm the kind of person that's always got big schemes and big plans and big ideas and I think I do that for my own sanity. I think if I ran out of the will to design something new, then there is actually no future. So I've got to live in a fantasy world to a certain extent. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What effect is this lifestyle having on you, do you think? 


CHRISTINE: Physically I'm wearing down. Um, it's getting to the point where I'm not going to be able to keep loading the car and unloading the car. Um, emotionally I'm worn out.


JENNY BROCKIE:  What about friends, family, how far around are you moving? 


CHRISTINE: As far as sustaining relationships, look, I already had trouble sustaining relationship because of the fibromyalgia. When you're in pain all the time, a certain amount of moodiness is going to creep in of sorry, I can't address that now, leave it. So you get to that point, but also when you're geographically mobile, I started being mobile in 2000 which is the first time I experienced unemployment so I started going to wherever the contracts were. So I'd go to Brisbane or the Gold Coast or Canberra or Sydney. So over that period of time you stop investing in relationships and people stop investing in their relationships with you. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Doris, you're 64, where are you living at the moment? 


DORIS:  I used to live with mum for fourteen years and, I was her carer for six to seven years, and she ended up having dementia, Alzheimer's, she passed away in February this year, yes. So once the house was sold I moved in with my daughter. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So the house was sold? 


DORIS:  Yes. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what's happening to the proceeds of the sale?  


DORIS:  There is nine brothers, nine brothers and sisters, there's nine of us in the family.  


JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you have any plans for what you would do when your mother died? 


DORIS:  No, I had no plans because I didn't expect her to end up in a nursing home. This sounds ridiculous but you never expect your mother to end up in a nursing home. So once you're in a nursing home, as far as they're concerned, they take away the carer's, um, money and they put you on New Start.  So I had asked for these Housing Commission places and they had sent me to a couple of them. If you're getting 550 a fortnight and, and these places are ranging from 80 to 190 a week, you don't really have much left as far as running a car, electricity or gas, and having two grand kids, there would be no sharing of anything. So you're left with really nothing, you know?


JENNY BROCKIE:  Tell me about your working life. 


DORIS:  I worked all my life. I'm a hairdresser I ended up having a business called Close Shave. I ran that place for sixteen years and I turned it also into a tattooing place.


JENNY BROCKIE:  What happened to the business? 


DORIS:  I had two floods and a fire in six weeks.


JENNY BROCKIE:  You weren't able to operate the business? 


DORIS:  I couldn't operate, no. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you went under financially with the business? 


DORIS:  I certainly did, yes, I lost the business. It took me probably the best eight months of that year hiding in the little bit of insurance money that I got, so I left. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And you were married? 


DORIS:  I was married for twenty five years, I've been separated for the last fifteen years, so I have two children. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Were you financially secure during that marriage or not? 


DORIS:  Yes, yes, after the separation, I bought him out. So I kept the house and I actually rented it and went to live with mum in her house and I bought another property at the same time. So I had two mortgages going.


JENNY BROCKIE:  This is when your business was working? 


DORIS:  Yes, when it was working, yes. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  But when it went bad? 


DORIS:  Yes, I lost everything out of the business because I fought those eight months with, with a commercial lawyer and she was worth $800 an hour.  So over those months I just lost everything that I got. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Trying to fight to get it.


DORIS:  That's right, to get it back, yeah. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So now at 64 you can't access the pension yet? 


DORIS:  No. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you're than the job seeker's benefit, NewStart? 


DORIS:  Yes. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What is that like for you being in that situation? 


DORIS:  It makes you feel, I've never been on the dole in my life and I never, ever thought that I would have ended up in that position so it's degrading.


JENNY BROCKIE:  How do you manage on that? 


DORIS:  I live with my son for a couple of days and I live with my daughter, and she…


JENNY BROCKIE:   And are you going to keep that up do you think? 


DORIS:  You know, there are no plans any more. I can't plan for anything anymore.  I used to plan before six months to a year in advance, but I can't even do that from week to week.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Have you tried to get work at all? 


DORIS:  In my game, being a hairdresser or being a barber, I think it takes that little bit of, I don't know, it's a bit of youth and I don't have that and I think when, when you're behind a chair and you're doing someone's hair, you have to be glamorous, especially, especially in men's. You know, it was very particular for me to be a men's hairdresser, and I think age has really done me in. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you've lost confidence as well? 


DORIS:  I have, definitely, definitely. 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Let's have a closer look at the housing situation for older women. 






The number of older women accessing support for homelessness is increasing at a faster rate than older men. Up until the age of 65 and a half, a single woman is eligible for the job seeking benefit NewStart receiving $535.60 per fortnight.


If she has a permanent medical condition, a woman can access the disability support pension receiving $888.30 per fortnight and at 65 and a half years old she can receive the age pension receiving $888.30 per fortnight, though the age of eligibility is increasing.


A snapshot of rental prices across the country shows… that in Australia's most expensive rental city, Sydney, a one bedroom unit costs $840 per fortnight on average to rent. That’s around $300 more than the NewStart allowance or $50 less than the pension.


 In Australia's cheapest rental city, Hobart, fortnightly rent for a one bedroom unit averages at $360, leaving $175 to spare from NewStart or $530 from the age pension.


Single people can access a maximium of $132.20 a fortnight in government rent assistance. By the age of retirement the average woman has a superannuation balance of about $80,000, just over half the average balance for men. 


Of the women who have savings outside super, more than a quarter have less than $10,000. Last year there were 195,000 applicants on social housing wait lists nationally. 





JENNY BROCKIE:  Christine, you were on NewStart, now you're on the age pension, what can you afford? 


CHRISTINE: I try to top out at 200 including utilities.  You've got to factor in utilities, and for me keeping my car on the road, to me is another fixed expense and it's the most important expense. 




CHRISTINE: Because in the last resort it's your home. So if you have nowhere else to sleep, you can sleep in your car and lock your doors. So the car is the highest priority, then rent and then utilities. I try not to go above 200 for rent and utilities. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And how possible is that? 


CHRISTINE: Not very. By, by doing the house sitting or this sort of semi house sitting I do where I'm not looking after dogs but I just pay for a room, I can normally pay somewhere between 160 and 200 for the room in the house. That's the going rate for a room in the area I'm living in. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And where are you looking, around the South Coast of New South Wales? 


CHRISTINE: Yeah, yeah. And it's, it's not the cheapest area but it's not the most expensive either. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So for the three of you, what is it like not having your own home at the moment? 


CHRISTINE: For me I think the most significant thing is the powerlessness.  I am living in a beautiful home at the moment, looking after two gorgeous little dogs, it’s not mine. So you have no power over your own life. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And Di, what about you, what's it like for you not having? 


DI: Oh well, it's, it is devastating. I have to be positive and, and dream that some, someday I might get out of it. I don't know.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Doris, what about you, what's it like for you? 


DORIS:  To know how hard I worked for mortgages all those years.  


JENNY BROCKIE:  And to have nothing at the end of it? 


DORIS:  And to have nothing is devastation.  I think the hardest part that I look at it today, here we are, us women, but it's our future, our children, our grandchildren. If we were in this stage now, I mean I'm not a very good example to my kids at the moment because that's how I feel, that's how I feel, that I've let them down. You know, if hard work does this to you in the end, what are you doing here? I was a workaholic, all I did was work to provide and I think to myself, you know, please don't work hard because you might end up like me.


JENNY BROCKIE:   Sharon, you're 52, where are you living? 


SHARON:  I'm living in transitional housing right now. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what does that involve, how many people are you living with? 


SHARON:  I'm living with nine other women in a house and that's very different to where I've come from. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Where have you come from?  What sort of life did you have before? 


SHARON:  I've come from a corporate background earning six figures, travelling the world for business, having a corporate credit card, having a gold access to the Qantas Club lounge, that was my world. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So how did your life change then so dramatically? 


SHARON:  My life changed a year ago.  So prior to that I'd taken a sabbatical and I went through the death of both my parents. I was with both of them when they took their last breath and I'm an only child so I have no family. So I was working abroad last year and, um, something happened on the ship I was working on and I was sent home within twenty four hours so they flew me back here and that's what started my homeless journey a year ago. I was put into crisis accommodation. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What was the job that you had on the ship? 


SHARON:  I was a port and shopping guide. So I got up and spoke about shopping in the ports throughout the Caribbean to a thousand people. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you'd lost your job at this point? 


SHARON:  I lost my job, yeah.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay. Let's have a look at where you're living at the moment in transitional housing. 


SHARON:  Sure. 






SHARON:  I live in a house that has ten bedrooms, I have one of those bedrooms, it’s quite large, it's my sanctuary. My whole world is in this room and probably under the bed as well, I know it's not great feng shui but there's quite a bit under the bed too.


The majority of my clothing is from Dress for Success, Vinnie's has helped me, Cat's Closet down in Woolloomooloo. I'm an avid reader so lots of books, I haven't paid for any of the books, they've all been given to me. Mirror here, got that on the street just outside, neighbour was giving it away.


You know, I have the same challenges every single day, the state of the bathroom when I wake up or is my food going to still be on my shelf, you know, that's normal in this type of living situation. But as you can hear, I've got my, my little birdies that, you know, come and greet me every day and they're like my family. So yeah, I mean I'm very blessed to be living here. 






JENNY BROCKIE:  Now you sound pretty cheerful about living in that transitional housing, does that suit you at the moment? 


SHARON:  Would I want to be there? No, of course not Jenny, you know, I'm an only child, I've always lived on my own so I would want to have my own accommodation, but right now I'm making the best of the situation that I'm dealt. 


I started work last week but prior to that I have something like otosclerosis, I'm lip reading most people here this evening so I have 20 percent hearing in my right ear and my left ear is pretty bad as well. So I've got a job, then after three months I lose the job. I get a job, after three months I lose the job. So nothing has been verbalised whether it's about my hearing, or whether I'm just not the right fit, but I seem to get over that probation period and I've been let go. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And given that you were earning the kind of money that you're talking about that you used to earn, I mean what happened to all of that? 


SHARON:  So I took two years off.  I paid, I paid for my sabbatical and I guess starting a job, losing a job, paying expensive rent in Melbourne, the money goes. I mean I haven't tried to maintain this $100,000 or six figure lifestyle while I haven't been working, you know everything changes, you have to change. I did join Tony Robbins, which you know, in hindsight I still don't have any regrets about that, it was $65,000 to join it. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  $65,000 and you had that kind of money? 


SHARON:  Absolutely. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Because you'd inherited it from your parents or…


SHARON:  I received some inheritance, I sold an apartment but in my mind it was like I'll get another job. I'll have that base salary of 80,000 again, I'll have, you know, 70,000 commission in a year.  


JENNY BROCKIE:  Why did do you that?   Why did you spend $65,000 on a motivational speaker? 


SHARON:  One of the big reasons for me Jenny is not having a family, not that Tony and Sage took the place of my family but it felt like a community, a really strong, I guess, you know, we're known as family. You know, when you're a platinum partner you know, you travel with Tony and Sage throughout the world and everyone that's part of that is like family. They were like brothers and sisters.  


JENNY BROCKIE:  At your sort of peak financially, how much money did you have sitting behind you? 


SHARON:  I would say 370,000. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And how long ago was that? 


SHARON:  That was in 2010. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And where did all that money go, apart from $65,000 to Tony Robbins? 


SHARON:  Oh, well sorry, I should say, you spend $65,000 to become a platinum partner but then you have to pay for the trips. I know everyone's shaking their head in the audience. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And, and I mean I'm, yeah, I'm sort of lost for words really. What do you, what did you do that for?


SHARON:  I guess as part of my sabbatical so I wasn't thinking at all. You know, it was like I've never had maternity leave, I felt like this time was mine, you know, and I deserved it. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you took two years off? 


SHARON:  Absolutely, and I have no regrets about that whatsoever.  I can't think backwards, I have to think forwards. I just can't.


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what does forwards look like for you at the moment? 


SHARON:  I'm working right now so for me the future is a lot better than it was six months ago, than it was six weeks ago. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Kath, you're 55 and until recently you were living in your car, for how long? 


KATH: Over two years the last time. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  The last time? 


KATH: Yes. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you've done it before? 


KATH:  Yes. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, let's have a look. 






KATH: I used to sort of sleep wherever I could.  I used to go up and down this highway, this road, so many times and days just looking for somewhere that I didn't camp the night before. So I don't know where I'm going to end up in a few weeks time. I could very well end up back in here and travelling the road again.


I used to make beautiful meals and this cost me between 2 and $5. Here I used to make vegies in a like foil, they used to come out like a roast, it was beautiful.  People used to walk past and oh, that smells really good, how are you doing that? 


And when I was in some areas I managed to find charities that had showers. Disabled toilets are usually the best because they've got like a bench and stuff where you could put your stuff. I didn't actually realise I was homeless for many years. I was like until one of the social workers in a really good charity down the coast said to me Kath, you're homeless. No I'm not, I'm sleeping in a car. She said that's homeless.


This is a reasonably safe area, I guess. As long as the councils don't come down. When I see the water I've got a million dollars, if I can see the water it gives me some sort of hope. I never saw anyone here at night in any cemeteries I stayed in. To me it was like who's going to go to the cemetery at night? I'm not scared of cemeteries, everyone's dead, nothing to be scared of.  It's out there that's scary with the live people. They're the ones that taunt you and scare you and haunt you.


I always try to stay very positive about it all, that something was going to work out and um, everything was going to be okay. So yeah, I just move on and hope no one saw me and if I felt like they were seeing me, I'd just move, yeah. So it's just like being on the run really but you're on the run from nothing, haven't done anything wrong. It's not, it's not a crime to be homeless, you know, but yet it is because the councils fine you. 






JENNY BROCKIE:  Kath, where, where are you living now? 


KATH: I'm in a unit for another four weeks, just a little studio apartment, hasn't got a kitchen or anything like that so I've got another four weeks in that. It's affordable, just, and I don't know where I'm going to be in four weeks time because all the rents are quite unaffordable. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So up in the air completely? 


KATH: Yeah. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What will you do? 


KATH: I don't know.  Car. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  You've still got the car? 


KATH: Yeah, I've still got my car. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And the car becomes very important to a lot of women in this situation? 


KATH: The car's my home. When you're in the car you've got no downfall, you know where you're at.  It's when you're renting and when you're staying in places that you might have that downfall. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What happened after you lived in your car for that two years? What happened to you? 


KATH: Um, I actually tried to ignore it Jen and I used to go and have my barbecues and sit on the river and go oh, this is good. Other people are paying $1,000 to week to stay here and I'm just sitting here, you know, enjoying it, pat dogs, you know, talk to people no one knew, you know and if they did I'd move on to another area. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  As soon as you thought they knew that you were homeless? 


KATH: Yeah, yeah.


JENNY BROCKIE:  But how, how did it affect you living in your car? 


KATH: The worst thing was sleeping in it because I'm cramped and I couldn't actually stretch out and I have a lot of injuries.  But I actually just sort of went look, just look at it like you're on holidays sort of thing, you know, and not think about it too hard. Meanwhile I'd be looking for accommodation, share accommodation or house sitting. You know, whatever.  I would have given my right arm to have a bus. You know, a Toyota Coaster or something because at least you can sleep and cook and stuff but sleeping just in the car is a whole different story.  And plus it's very, very risky.  You know I was very lucky that my car, I could lock it at night and it had an alarm system but I did have many times blokes walking around my car, you know, and I'd just get in it and take off, you know. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Did it get to you? 


KATH: Yeah, eventually it did. .  


JENNY BROCKIE:  Did a thing like that get to you? 


KATH:  Yeah, eventually it did. Eventually I broke down, I just wanted to, I just could not see any way out. I rang up my son and I said to him I don't know what to do any more and I said I feel like I'm just going to run my car into a tree and he actually rang the police and the police went around for about eight hours looking for me and anyway, they took me to hospital and the hospital let me stay there for a week until my next pay.


JENNY BROCKIE:  How did you get to the situation? 


KATH: Um, I had injuries.  Basically I was hit, hit and run by a car, that put me out of action for a few years. I went back to work but I was working contract work, making good money but I was, I was at the mines and sometimes I'd have three or four months between jobs. Eventually it ran out and then through all the years of work I, I had like about another eight operations on my arms and I could not work anymore. So yeah, I just all fell to bits. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what do you think of the stories you're hearing here tonight? 


KATH: Um, they're interesting, things like this are making the younger people realise that it can happen to them. You know, be careful, it can happen just like that. You know, superannuation is another thing.  I mean I never really got superannuation until the mines and that's not much. The little jobs I did before that, basically super went on expenses, you know, what they take it back sort of thing. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  On the fees? 


KATH: Yeah, so there's nothing in it. I've got a little bit of super now and all I'm doing is hoping to hell that the superannuation stays at a level where I can get to the stage where I can buy myself a campervan when I get it, but that's for another three and a half years. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you think you were going to live on when you got older? 


KATH: I thought work would keep up. I didn't know that I'd, like I've just had another major accident, you know, that's put me basically out for a while, my spinal damage and so forth.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Sharon, what did you think you were going to live on when you got older? 


SHARON:  Definitely not NewStart, you know, or the pension or anything like that. I just, um, thought I'd be married, we'd have, you know, a couple of properties and portfolio of shares, that sort of thing, that would have been my reality. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  That was what you thought was going to happen? 


SHARON:  Absolutely. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what about super, did you have super? 


SHARON:  Super, I still have super. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So how much super do you have, have you accessed that? 


SHARON:  I have 35,000, I've accessed 10,000 of it and that was difficult to do.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Christine, did you have super? No? 


CHRISTINE: Bits and pieces but because I was contracting, you'd have a few thousand in one super and a few thousand in another super, with increasing unemployment from 2000 onwards, you reach a point where you've got no money coming in and the car's got to be fixed so you cash out a little super to fix the car. And when that goes on for fifteen years, there's not much left. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Di, what about you, super wise? 


DI:  I did have a little bit of super, I think it was probably less than 20,000, probably 15, I can't remember, but I did access that, you know, when I left my husband. It was the only, only thing I had access to. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Doris, what happened to your super? 


DORIS:  Well in hairdressing or in, we were never taught to have super. So the government really made it official in the '90's.


JENNY BROCKIE:  So did you have any? 


DORIS:  Well, I had a couple of years when I was in business with my brother, so yeah, and at 60 you can take it out and not pay taxes, so I had 16,000 at that time so I went around the world. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  You went around the world on your super? 


DORIS:  Yes, 16,000. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you think of that decision now? 


DORIS:  I can't look at it that way. I had a wonderful time, yeah, it's once in your lifetime. In my lifetime at least at 60 years old the things that I've always dreamt to do, I did it. 16,000 is neither here or there. 


CHRISTINE: 16,000 is not going to save the day. 


DORIS:  So you know, so let's do it, you know? 


DI:  Might as well enjoy it. 


DORIS:  And if I feel like I should have kept it?  No, especially knowing now where I am today, that 16,000  wasn't going to make no difference. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Gwenda, you're 79 and you found yourself without anywhere to live at 78. Why? 


GWENDA: I was a live in housekeeper for many, many years and also became their carer. The person got very ill and the person that owned the house went to hospital at the beginning of the year and died. And the family said we want you out within two weeks, we're going to sell the house. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  How long had you been there, 26 years? 


GWENDA: Something like that, and anyway, I thought what am I going to do? I had my name down for a two bedroom government apartment but that was going to come sometime in the future. I was in desperate state, I didn't know where I was going to go, what I was going to do but I have very fortunately got a beautiful granddaughter and she said grandma, I'll help you. She got on the internet and found a program called One Link, where I'm living now in Chapman in Canberra there was one room available in this magnificent big house.  There are eight ladies all together, we all have our own bedroom and en suite, we take our own furniture, knickknacks, lounge rooms, dining room, and I was made very welcome.


JENNY BROCKIE:  You ran this man's business for 26 years for him? 


GWENDA: Well for many years we lived there on the South Coast. He had a taxi business, he couldn't read and write and do the book work, so I ran that for him for a number of years. I wasn't really paid any wages as such but I had a roof over my head. I paid for all my own personal things like a car, telephone, all of that sort of thing.


JENNY BROCKIE:  So what about, what about thinking about your own financial circumstances? You're obviously very good at running his but what about your own situation? 


GWENDA: I just thought life would just go on, never thought about it and I am absolutely so fortunate and it's thanks to my granddaughter and the lovely ladies in the house where I live, they have been so good to me.


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you've really lucked out Gwenda with your housing situation? 


GWENDA: I just could not have done any better and I'm there till they carry me out in my beautiful pink coffin. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you, did you at any stage, when you were living in that house with that man and helping him with his business as his carer, did you at any stage think about what would happen if he died? 


GWENDA: Well to be honest no, I don't. I just went with the flow. I thought tomorrow's another day and I just did never think. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  There is a theme emerging here ladies I have to say in terms of everybody thinking what, that things were just going to be fine? Everything will be alright, is that what happens, is that what people think? 


CHRISTINE: No, I don't think that's it at all. I think it's that if you do think it through and think it through thoroughly, you know there is no way out and so you go day by day because you know you can never earn enough.  After a certain age you can never earn enough to buy your way out of this trouble and so all you can do is live day by day and hope a miracle happens.  


JENNY BROCKIE:  But I suppose the question I'm asking is what about thinking about it a lot earlier. Like you know, when you're 30 and when you're 25? 


KATH:  How many young people these days think about it though? 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Sorry? I mean I just want to throw that out there. I want a reaction from some of the younger women here. I'm going to just ask how you feel about where you're hearing and what you think. Yeah?


FEMALE: I am 30, I've been working full time for the last seven, eight years and I don't plan for my financial future. I do rely on my super, if I was to think about it, but I think more in six months ahead, in a year ahead, I'm more focused on my career. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Who does have a plan or feels like they have a plan, Gina? 


GINA:  I have a super and I have an investment property and I think because our generation is growing up in an area where we know housing affordability is really hard, we have to have a plan and I started thinking about that when I was 30. So I think, I think women should really get on board the knowing what you need to do for the rest of your life because I think it's important. 




LUCRETIA: I’m in my thirties and I don’t know anybody that has got their own apartment in my age bracket that didn’t get help from their parents. So, it’s like, even if you do all the right things and put, you know… other people’s perceived bad decisions you made aside, someone could do everything right, go to uni, keep working as hard as they can, get made redundant and the same month a car, whatever… there’s a whole bunch of things and not ever make enough to get a foot in the property market. You know, it’s difficult even doing everything right.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Kath, you mentioned your adult son before, would you consider living with him? 


KATH: I wouldn't do it to him.  He's got a girlfriend, he lives in a one bedroom unit, what am I going to do?  Go and sleep on his couch? 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Not an option at all?  


KATH: No, I wouldn't ruin his life. That would be terrible.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Di, what about you, living with kids, would you consider that? 


DI:  Oh I have. I mean at the moment I've been living with my daughter with the van in their yard but it's not easy doing it and I don't want to impose on my daughter. I mean she does talk about a granny flat. We've talked about all sorts of options but I don't want that either because I think one of the big issues with senior, you know, women, is the loneliness and my family are too busy. You know, they work, their children play sport seven days a week I think.  I'd be sitting in a granny flat all on my own isolated again.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Doris, I'm interested in your response to that because you are living with your daughter? 


DORIS:  Yes, I live with my daughter and I also live with my son. I have two grandchildren, they keep my alive. They are the most important things on this earth for me at the moment and they make me happy and it's youth and I understand, I am taking that space, I don't like taking that space in their home. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, can I get some reactions over here? There was some murmuring over here.  Ladies here, what do you think?


FEMALE: I think it depends, like in our culture we're happy to, to get their family, you know  for example like me, they'll be happy to take me with them and it's not for them that I'm getting a space or anything.  You are so welcome.


JENNY BROCKIE:  It's a different cultural response to that situation. 


FEMALE: Exactly, that’s right. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Anyone else, yes?  Lucretia?


LUCRETIA:  You're never an imposition, ever, ever. It's just different cultures. In heaps of places all around the world the elderly are revered and you'd really want them around for … everything.


GINA:  Because they want them for child care.  


JENNY BROCKIE:  You want them for child care?  


DORIS: A built in cleaner and cook, yeah. 


LUCRETIA:  But I was actually talking about the whole, the value that you have. Like what you have to offer is everything, you know?


DORIS: Yeah, because of my mum, I lived with my mum for all those years and I think, I never thought I would never part from there. You know, my daughter and my son feel not even a question. Mum, you don't even have to ask us, this is it. Not a couch, a bedroom, yeah? So it's hard for me as a mother and they all know, I mean you know, to come to this it's a hard place. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Kath, what's going to happen for you next do you think? 


KATH: I don't know, it's a hard place. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  You don't know? 


KATH: I don't know. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  So you don't know where you're going to be living in a few weeks time? 


KATH: No, I'm looking, I'm hoping. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Have you put your name down for public housing? 


KATH: No, because it's going to take me at least eight to ten years and I wouldn't live in half of them. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Why wouldn't you live in half of them? 


KATH: Because I don't like them, they're terrible, they're boxes and they're in environments that I wouldn't live. I'd rather be in my car personally, I'd feel safer. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Christine, have you applied for public housing? Where are you up to with that? 


CHRISTINE: Yeah, this is where I started where I want to imagine that I've still got choices. I was told how to get myself from the general waiting list into, onto the emergency list which would see me very quickly into housing. But then I have to take the first place that I'm offered and it doesn't matter if it's on a major road, it doesn't matter if it's in a dangerous area or noise pollution or whatever, you have to take it or you're back down. But I'm trying to do something better than that because I think there are better options. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what are those better options? 


CHRISTINE: Personally, for me, I want to, and I'm work being towards trying to get involved with ECHO Community Housing.  We don't need $300,000 houses, we can build a prefab for 30, $40,000 if the land is made available. So all it takes is a bit of government land. So there's, there's viable alternatives and this is where I say I live in fantasy land because I will continue to try and work towards those alternatives and it won't be until I find myself in hospital because I've finally worn out and refuse to leave because I've got nowhere left to go, only then will I accept the emergency housing that they will offer because once I'm in there I'm dead and I know that. It's not the kind of life I can lead. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Di, what happens if you get sick living in your van or…?


DI:  I don't know, it's a question that I don't have the answer for. It's certainly something that I've thought about. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And what happens when you're older or if you can't drive or…?


DI:  Absolutely. Well I don't need to drive. I can just park it somewhere. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  How would you like to live in the future? 


DI:  Look, I'd like to, I'd like to have a small unit, doesn't have to be big and, you know, somewhere comfortable that I could know that I could stay there for the rest of my life until I got too sick to, you know, before they put me in a nursing home or something. But no, I would like safe, affordable, simple housing.


JENNY BROCKIE:  So do you have an actual plan beyond the van? No? 


DI:  Well yes and no, but it's a bit dreamsville. But I'm working towards something. I'm certainly not giving up at this point, not giving up and I know the van's not long term for me. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Gwenda, how long can you live where you are? 


GWENDA: I'm there till the end of my days, there's no time limit whatsoever. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  And shared housing really suits you? 


GWENDA: Well the nicest thing, if I lived in a two bedroom government apartment by myself I wouldn't know anybody, but where I am now I've got seven other friends.  If I want company, we sometimes have meals together, we go out together, if you want to be by yourself you can be by yourself and it was an absolute blessing that my granddaughter found this for me because I had nowhere to go. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  If you had your time over again, would you do anything differently?


DI:  Oh yes. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Oh yes, what would you do differently Di? 


DI:  Um, mmm, yes, I'd certainly be more organised with the finances and I was pretty well but it was challenging in a marriage. I don't know whether I'd get married but then at the same time I have lovely children, two beautiful children and four beautiful grandchildren that wouldn't have happened unless I went down that route.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Would you do anything differently Doris if you had your time over? 


DORIS:  No.  The only thing I would, I would have been a bit more careful. I wouldn't have trusted so much. In my journey my life has been exactly what I wanted, whether it was the family, whether it was the business and the grandchildren and my mum, yeah, my mum was the key of it all, yeah. But I wouldn't change it. The only thing that, yeah, I would have had super when I was 30. That would be the only thing I would have done. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Christine, would you have done anything differently? 


CHRISTINE: Reincarnate into a different body. I'm not going to be ashamed of myself for being in my current situation because for anyone to have lived that long with fibromyalgia and still be functioning, I've done extremely well. So there's nothing else I could have done. 


JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, thank you all so much for joining us tonight, very generous of you to share your stories.  It's been really interesting conversation and that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking on Twitter and on Facebook. Thanks everyone, thank you.