Entertainment TV Older women becoming the new face of the homeless crisis

Older women becoming the new face of the homeless crisis

Kath Reynders
Homeless Kath Reynders lives out of her car and prefers to park in cemeteries. Photo: SBS
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Sharon Bedson, 52, had it all: a six-figure salary in the corporate world, investment properties and travelling the world for business.

She lost the lot and now lives in transitional-crisis housing with nine other women.

Doris Perkin, 64, worked hard all her life in her hairdressing business, but it went bust after two floods and a fire in six weeks, followed by lengthy legal battles. She now lives between the homes of her two children.

These are typical stories of Australia’s homeless women – explored on Tuesday night’s episode of Insight on SBS.

It’s a problem that is getting worse, with the number of women over 55 accessing homelessness support services growing more quickly than men.

Kath Reynders was injured in a hit-and-run car accident, which has always limited her employment opportunities. Now, she mostly sleeps in her car – often in cemeteries.

Sharon Bedson was a corporate high-flyer on a six-figure salary before becoming homeless in 2015. Photo: SBS

“I’m not scared of them. They’re all dead. It’s out there that’s scary. It’s the live people. They’re the ones that taunt you and scare you and haunt you,” she says.

She has always tried to stay positive about it all.

“It’s just like being on the run, but I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s not a crime to be homeless. Yet it is because the council will fine you.”

And it can happy so quickly. Ms Bedson was so confident in her life that she took two years out on a sabbatical and was with both of her parents when they died. She ran her finances down during that break, maintaining her previous lifestyle, which she now couldn’t pay for.

She assumed there would be another job. But that didn’t work out and she had no money for housing. Housing costs [even at the bottom end of the market] are the root cause of these women’s situations.

Pension not enough to afford housing

There’s little in reach of those on a pension or a benefit which ranges between $550 and $880 a fortnight for single women.

Christine Kent, 66, survives by housesitting.

“There’s nowhere livable I can afford on the pension. You pay $200-$250 per week for something crawling with pests or riddled with damp.”

Di Hill, 73, wept as she told host Jenny Brockie: “I was paying 70 per cent of my income on rent. I was going backwards.”

Her marriage of 43 years ended in 2010 and she left with just $8000. She did housesitting and went back to university to do her Masters. But then she couldn’t get work because she had no permanent address.

Ms Hill put her life savings into a van called Myrtle the Turtle, in which she lives between free campsites and her daughter’s home.

“I have to be positive. I have to dream I will get out of it,” she says. But, for now, there’s no alternative.

These women all thought little about what would happen when they stopped working and had tiny superannuation funds.

As Doris Perkin said, women like her faced “a transition from where we were looked after, to where we need to look after ourselves”.

She implored younger Australian women to “own your future” to ensure it doesn’t happen to them.

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