Families and older women – the new face of homelessness. Homelessness Week 2023.

7 August 2023

Families with children and older women are joining the ranks of people experiencing homelessness, with outreach workers reporting rising numbers of both groups living in cars or pitching tents in parks.

“We are now seeing a new demographic of people who are experiencing homelessness for the first time – people who have been paying their bills and looking after themselves. But now something’s tipped them over the edge,” Uniting WA Co¬≠ CEO Michael Chester said.

“It’s alarming to see so many families affected by homelessness and living in their cars, especially when one or both parents are still working.”

“Another cohort of concern is older women, who often have much less income and savings, and simply cannot afford both rent and food at the same time,” he said.

The Homeless Engagement Assessment Response Team (HEART) is a partnership between the Department of Communities and community service agencies, lead by St Patrick’s Community Support Centre (St Pat’s) in collaboration with Uniting WA, Wungening Aboriginal Corporation and Indigo Junction. HEART provides rapid, flexible support to people experiencing rough sleeping across the Perth metropolitan.

Since February this year, the HEART North team, which works closely with the City of Joondalup and the City of Wanneroo, has had 592 engagements with people experiencing homelessness, including 10 families comprised of around 125 people.

It was particularly heartbreaking to watch the impact of homelessness on children, said HEART North Uniting WA outreach worker, William.

“There’s no sense of normalcy for these children. They come back from school to sit in a car park and then try to stay warm in the car at night. There’s also an element of danger sleeping in car parks,” he said.

One family who were sleeping in their car until they were assisted by the HEART North team was Tim and his seven-year-old son.

The HEART North team helped the family with food vouchers and arranged temporary accommodation for them. They then assisted Tim to sort through some financial affairs. This led to the family being able to secure a private rental, where they have been living since March this year.

“If it weren’t for the HEART team, we might be still sleeping in the car,” said Tim. “Homelessness can happen to anyone. People who can’t afford a rent rise or who don’t have a rental lease like us, are just left high and dry,” he said.

The HEART North team is also seeing rising numbers of older women experiencing homelessness.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports show a rise of 30% in just 5 years in the number of older women experiencing or being at risk of homelessness.1

Fifty-six-year-old Bernie experienced homelessness for almost 40 years after family trauma led her to leave home at aged 14.

She maintained several jobs over the years, while battling mental health and addiction issues, made worse by homelessness.

“People I was working alongside didn’t know that I was homeless. People who are homeless often hide it because they are ashamed. If you can’t crash on a friend’s couch or living room floor and you don’t have a car, then you look for sheds or parks to sleep in.”

Bernie now lives in a unit which is part of a Uniting WA supported tenancy housing program.

Uniting WA also runs Tranby Engagement Hub – the only crisis facility in Perth that runs 365 days a year offering meals, showers, laundry, healthcare, and other support services for people experiencing homelessness. In the first 6 months of 2023, there have been 40,139 presentations at Tranby of people asking for assistance, compared to 25,823 in the same period last year – a year-on-year increase of 55%.

On any given night, about 9,000 people in WA are homeless. WA has the highest number of rough sleepers, with up to 1 in 4 people experiencing homelessness also sleeping rough.2

1. https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/ahrc_ow_homelessness2019.pdf

2. https://www.shelterwa.org.au/new-census-data-shows-wa-rough-sleeping-has-doubled-in-five-years- and-is-the-worst-in-australia/

Media opportunities:
Uniting WA Co-CEO – Michael Chester
Uniting WA HEART team members – William and Paul
Homelessness lived experience advocate – Bernie Napier

Media Contact
Marissa Williams