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Hidden in Plain Sight: How Women are Experiencing Homelessness

Amidst the dynamic and evolving conversations surrounding the housing crises in Australia, one critical matter often escapes the spotlight: hidden homelessness and the rising number of older women facing housing insecurity. Hidden homelessness is a complex problem that affects countless people worldwide. It describes the experience of being homeless without any apparent signs to the casual observer. 

The women facing this issue are not typically found sleeping on park benches or in makeshift shelters under highway overpasses. Instead, they resort to couch-surfing, staying with friends or family, sleeping in cars or enduring overcrowded and substandard housing conditions. All whilst wrestling with the instability and insecurity that comes with not having a stable place to call home. 

The reasons behind hidden homelessness among women are diverse and encompass economic instability, domestic violence, and family breakdowns as leading factors. Women in these situations often fear the stigma associated with visible homelessness, which can lead to a reluctance to seek help or resources, causing them to go under the radar and suffer in silence. 

In Australia, like many other countries, hidden homelessness poses a formidable challenge. The statistics are alarming and present women over 50 as the largest growing demographic of people facing homelessness. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as of 2021, an estimated 1,410 women experienced homelessness on any given night in Australia. However, it’s essential to note that these numbers don’t fully encapsulate the extent of hidden homelessness, as it excludes those who aren’t sleeping rough but are still without a stable home. 

What Habitat is Doing to Help.

Here at Habitat for Humanity Australia, we are deeply committed to addressing the housing crisis and improving the lives of those living in unstable and unsafe situations. Our organisation is actively engaged in initiatives aimed at providing safe and stable housing solutions for those in need, and many of our programs have a special focus on supporting the women and their families who are grappling with the challenges of housing insecurity.   

Some of our programs include Brush with Kindness and The Home Building Program as well as others such as SHARP. 

Brush with Kindness 

Our Brush with Kindness program, powered by our dedicated volunteers, works to repair and maintain temporary accommodation for those in need. This includes women and children escaping domestic violence, homeless youth, and those experiencing varying levels of housing instability. We’ve forged impactful partnerships with organisations like Wesley Mission; who focus on providing crisis accommodation for families escaping domestic violence. Helia, a female-led organisation, supporting our cause through financial contributions and employee volunteering, enabling us to deliver suitable housing solutions to vulnerable groups. We’ve also teamed up with Peggy’s Place in Brisbane, a transitional shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence, reinforcing our shared commitment to improving lives through stable housing. 

Our Homebuilding Program 

In South Australia and Victoria, we continue to support low-income families, single mothers and those living in difficult housing situations; through the home building program. We have recently had some great success stories such as Storm and her two young children and Celeste and her three children; both families have moved into their new homes.  The Habitat Victoria team have also recently completed a 12 year homebuilding project in Yea, Victoria; assisting 21 families in becoming homeowners and mobilising over 3000 volunteers. You can read more about this accomplishment here.  

Celeste stands in front of her new home holding the doorkey.

As we examine the issue of hidden homelessness, we need to ensure that our advocacy extends to those often marginalised and silenced. Women facing hidden homelessness require more than just acknowledgment; they need practical solutions. And whilst recognition of the various ways people experience homelessness and housing insecurity is a crucial first step, through providing genuine support, financially, mentally and physically we can address issues at the root cause. Through community engagement of programs such as Brush with Kindness, we are creating a brighter future for these women; where they don’t just have a place to call home but also a path towards stability and self-sufficiency. Together, with your support, we can make a real difference in the lives of these women and their families.