Oh give me a home...the plight of senior singles
Retired community development worker Linda Mina has first hand experience of what it’s like to be a single, homeless woman, and she’s now channelling it to help other senior women find safe and affordable accommodation along the Queensland coast.
The founder of Senior Shares Gold Coast and Senior Shares Sunshine Coast Facebook pages, Linda has spent much of her time over the past two years developing an impromptu service that aims to bring together homeowners and potential sharers.
Together, the two Facebook pages currently have more than 1400 members looking for affordable housing, but the idea has quickly caught on and Linda has helped other people develop similar Facebook pages covering the same needs in Gympie, Northern New South Wales, Gladstone and Bateman’s Bay on the south coast, among others.
“Affordable accommodation for seniors is more than a local problem,” she says. “The issue of homelessness among senior women is widespread and growing across the country for a number of reasons.”
Linda’s own story is typical.
“After divorce, I became a single, working woman bringing up children with little or no help,” she says. “My parents were elderly and when my father died, I also looked after Mum. We managed for a while, pooling our resources to live together, but then she needed more care.”
Linda worked fewer hours so she could provide the home care her aged mum needed and they gradually became poorer, dipping into savings to keep the family afloat.
After her mother died, aged 91, Linda herself became ill and realised that she could no longer afford to keep her home. She moved in with her youngest daughter and lived there for 18 months while she searched for a small, affordable unit.
“I was shocked at rental costs on the Gold Coast,” she says. “By that time retired, I quickly realised that the 30 per cent rule - the average percentage of income estimated to cover housing costs - when applied to my pension meant finding accommodation for $150 a week.
“This was impossible in an area where rents for studios and one bedroom units were upwards of $350.
“But I had flat shared when I was younger and I knew about Gumtree, and although it wasn’t very senior friendly, I eventually found a share and moved in with another senior lady, but it didn’t last long.”
After another couple of sharing experiences and with her savings diminished further, Linda relied on “couchsurfing” with friends and relations, as recently as 18 months ago.
It’s a story that is becoming increasingly and worryingly familiar. Last month Linda featured in the SBS Insight program which focused on affordable accommodation for seniors.
“We are talking about educated women who have lost out on pensions, have minimal super”
For Linda, who now lives in her eldest daughter’s granny flat, the worry is over, but for thousands of other women, the struggle against homelessness is a daily struggle, leading to depression and anxiety.
“I do know that there are women who live in their cars after becoming homeless from sheer force of circumstances,” she says.
“We are talking about educated women who have lost out on pensions, have minimal super through working in low paid jobs, have lost their homes through divorce or widowhood, have lost their jobs, or are unable to find sustainable long-term work.
“They are often desperate not to admit how close they are to disaster. They struggle to retain their pride and dignity and may not even confide their desperate situation to their family and friends.”
It’s no surprise then that her Senior Shares Facebook pages are flourishing.
In the two years since the first page was started, many women have turned to it to find safe, reliable house shares. Occasionally, Linda offers more than hope in acute situations.
“I do make a personal effort to help anyone who is vulnerable and will put a call out for emergency accommodation if the need arises,” she says.
However, the widespread nature of the problem needs a long-term solution, so Linda has also been focusing on putting the issue in front of local politicians, writing to them to highlight the problems.
She has also used as many free sources of publicity as possible to spread the word about her Facebook groups.
In August, Linda was invited to speak about her Facebook service at the Lady Musgrave Trust’s 2017 Annual Forum on Women and Homelessness in Brisbane and hopes, by that, to raise the profile of house sharing as an innovative and workable solution to the issue of affordable living.
Linda would also like to see the government or other agency regulate house sharing.
“There are certain risks involved in house shares,” she says.
“Owners often have strong reservations about opening their homes to strangers and sharers have no formal rights and can be evicted with little or no notice.
“I would like to see a regulated service that could, for example, introduce a register of tenants and landlords. This could help to ensure the safety and security of both parties and it would reduce the chances of vulnerable people being taken advantage of.
“Police checks and a dispute resolution service might also encourage more owners to share their homes.”
In the meantime, Linda continues to publicise the issue and to share her experience in setting up Facebook groups and welcomes anyone who would like to find out more, to join or set up a local group.
If you are interested in sharing a house - as an owner or tenant - sign up to a Senior Shares Facebook page and make contact with Linda.