People at risk of homelessness

Homelessness—and particularly the disadvantages associated with it—can contribute to premature ageing through earlier onset of health problems more commonly associated with later life. The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines homelessness as a situation where someone does not have suitable accommodation, and their current living arrangement:

  • is in a dwelling that is inadequate (is unfit for human habitation and lacks basic facilities such as kitchen and bathroom facilities)
  • has no tenure, or if their initial tenure, is short and not extendable
  • does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations (including personal or household living space, ability to maintain privacy and exclusive access to kitchen and bathroom facilities).

In the context of people who are homeless, the population of 'older people' is commonly defined as those aged 55 and over.

One in 6 (16%) of all homeless people on Census night in 2016 were aged 55 or over—around 18,600 people.

Out of this population, the majority (63%) were male, and around 8% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The most common dwellings reported in older homeless people were living in boarding houses (27%), and staying temporarily in other households (24%). This contrasts with the younger age groups, where the most common condition reported was living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings [1].

Homelessness is a growing problem for older Australians, and will likely continue to increase over time due to an ageing population and declining rates of home ownership among older people. Over the last decade, the number of older homeless people increased by 49%, with the largest changes measured in people aged 65–74 and 55–64 (Figure 1). Although older women do not account for the majority of homeless people, they represent a rapidly growing demographic in the homeless population— increasing by 31% from 2011. Factors such as domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial difficulty and limited superannuation can put older women at risk of homelessness [1].

People seeking Specialist Homelessness Services

People facing housing difficulties can access help through government-funded specialist homelessness agencies, which can be either not-for-profit or for profit agencies. People access specialist homelessness services due to homelessness, or being at risk of homelessness. In 2016–17, the most common reasons older people sought assistance were housing crisis (22%), domestic and family violence (19%) and financial difficulties (17%). Just over 23,600 older people used specialist homelessness services in 2016–17 (representing 8% of all clients). Most older clients (65%) were housed but at risk of homelessness at the time they presented to specialist homelessness services, compared with 56% of all clients. The majority of older clients were aged 55–64 (65%). While more than half (56%) were women, the rates of usage were similar for men and women [2].

The number of older Australians seeking assistance from specialist homelessness services grew by 8% on average per year between 2012–13 and 2016–17. The median number of days supported also increased from 18 days in 2012–13 to 27 days in 2016–17; this suggests that older people are presenting with more complex issues that take longer to resolve and that they have greater difficulty in securing housing [2].


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2018. Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016. ABS 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2018. Specialised homelessness services annual report 2016–17. Client groups of interest: Older clients. Canberra: AIHW.