newsCO.com.au–Thousands of over-55s pushed to front of social housing queue

August 13, 2017

Seven thousand people at risk of homelessness in Victoria will be moved onto a high-priority waiting list for secure social housing, but on one condition – they must be aged 55 or older.

The change means that from next month, older people in poverty, who have in many cases spent several years waiting to be placed in public housing, will be moved to the top of the queue.

Currently more than 57,000 people in Victoria are in the state government queue for public housing – more than 11,000 of whom are “priority one” cases, according to data from Victoria’s Department of Human Services.

People who are priority one cases normally wait 10 to 12 months to be placed in secure accommodation, the Andrews government said.

The targeted boost of 7000 priority-one places will increase the number on that shorter waiting list to more than 18,000.

More than 165,000 people live in public housing in Victoria.

Housing Minister Martin Foley said homelessness and housing stress among older people was a serious, if under-recognised problem.

“We know some of our most vulnerable Victorians waiting for housing are over the age of 55 – and they often wait the longest,” he said.

In May the Andrews government gazetted a new social housing category solely for those aged 55 and older.

The government has promised to provide 6000 new homes to cut into the state’s growing housing waiting list, and has committed $800 million towards the pledge.

It has provided 1600 homes since making the pledge and cannot say when it will reach its target.   

David Montgomery, 62, lives in social housing in a one-bedroom flat in Ringwood, for which he pays rent, but was on a waiting list for nine years.

Before moving into his apartment, which he described as a “palace”, Mr Montgomery spent 18 months in emergency housing in a communal home.

He found it intolerable. He says he saw other tenants self-harm.  

“The place was a pigsty, absolutely disgusting. And I said to my worker, ‘I can’t live there, I’d die’,” he said.

“But I had to, and I was there for 18 months. It was a bad experience because you had old people there who had dementia, no one wanted them and they’d hurt each other and a lot of them ended up in hospital.”

Professor Guy Johnson leads the Unison Housing Research Program at RMIT, and said that homelessness was on the rise among the elderly, but that the problem is less visible because they are rarely rough sleepers.

“Where we are seeing growth in older homeless people is not in the rough sleeping population, it’s more in the precarious housing circumstances, in boarding houses, share houses, caravans and so forth,” Professor Johnson said.

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