Katoomba Elderly Left in the Cold

UTS Journalism, April 2017

Katoomba’s aging homeless community are waiting up to a decade for accommodation as new reports reveal a severe lack of available housing.

The latest figures from the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) show a 10+ year waiting time for social housing in many of the Outer Western regions, including Katoomba. Anglicare’s most recent Rental Affordability report shows that one of 832 properties advertised in the Outer West and Blue Mountains region is considered affordable for a single person receiving the Aged Pension.

Susan King, Research and Advocacy manager for Anglicare Sydney said: “for people on benefits… we’re not talking about a huge number of places. To only have one [house] that’s suitable is significant; we are quite concerned about that.”

Local busker Craig Battey has seen community issues first hand, and said: “all the people in their plus 50’s are now growing old disgracefully…I’m seeing a lot more older homeless people.” He also said that housing affordability in the area is increasing strain on elderly residents to find accommodation during retirement,  “if you don’t own property, or sadly aren’t married by the time you’re 50, you’re almost screwed.”

Brett, in his early 50s, relies on the Aged Pension, and has been sleeping rough for almost twenty years. “I try to get my money to last the week,” he said, “I go into St. Vinnies and that’s it… I’d rather go across the road and buy some food, proper food.”

The St. Vincent de Paul Society in Katoomba has been providing emergency assistance to people like Brett, and welfare worker Bob Sisson said they have been working to provide more affordable housing for elderly residents at risk of homelessness. “These places have to be built,” he said, “the Society have been pushing for affordable housing.”

The Department of Family and Community Services was contacted for comment, and spokesperson Simon Thomas said, “FACS currently provides seniors specific housing in locations across the state. Under Future Directions… the supply and quality of social housing for older people will be increasing.”

The Future Directions initiative aims to create more affordable housing by increasing the use of private rental assistance, rather than government supported social housing, over the next decade. For Brett, another decade on the streets is too long: “I’d like a house to live in most… I’m in a tent out the back. The cold air’s coming through, it’s horrible,” he said.

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