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Pop-up shelter initiative helps homeless older women

2 July 2018

An innovative approach to the temporary use of a vacant building site owned by Uniting, the service arm of the Uniting Church, is providing a temporary safe haven for older homeless women who are literally left out in the cold when it comes to specialist homelessness services.

Uniting has earmarked the inner western Sydney site for retirement living with a social and affordable housing component. The site, which was previously used for residential aged care, is due to be demolished in early 2019 for redevelopment.

But rather than remaining vacant awaiting redevelopment, the property has become a temporary home to a group of women aged 45 and older who would otherwise be homeless.

In the inner city, these women turn to specialist homelessness services like the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre and WAGEC, (the Women and Girls’ Emergency Centre) for help. In turn, these services support women to access appropriate housing, which is in short supply.

“The vacant building presented a transitional opportunity within a 12 month window to meet a rising need via secure affordable housing enabling women to set themselves up,” explained Uniting Property Director Simon Furness.

“After setting up referral systems through collaboration with local specialist homelessness service providers, we started taking our first temporary residents in March 2018.

“In that time, three women have moved on to find more permanent housing, two in social housing and one has secured affordable housing.

“We acknowledge that this is not a permanent solution, but it is designed to build a launching pad to other long term secure housing options.

“The property has around 100 rooms, but not all were suitable for use due to broken windows or other maintenance issues. We identified around 30 bedsit rooms with a kitchenette and bathroom that we could use.

“As a fully functional residential aged care facility until last year, the building is ideally suited to this use, but it needed some serious cleaning and refurbishment, even down to things like new shower curtains.”

The rooms were furnished with donations from the Construction Profile company following a refurbishment of a large hotel and each room is equipped with a microwave and bar fridge. The YWCA also donated a television for the common lounge area.

ABS data identifies that older women are a growing cohort of our homeless population.

The lack of suitable options for affordable accommodation force many older women into a transient life of caravan parks, sleeping in their cars or vans, or on friends’ lounges.

That’s where Uniting is providing an innovative stop-gap until early next year to allow the women to find more permanent housing solutions.

Uniting currently has signed partnership agreements in place with four specialist homelessness services for referrals:

  • Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre (WAGEC);
  • Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (including the Boarding House Outreach Service);
  • YWCA Rapid Rehousing; and
  • Domestic Violence Service Management (DVSM)

CEO of Newtown Neighbourhood Centre Liz Yeo says they have referred ten women to the Uniting site since it opened.

“Older women are a growing but often hidden cohort of our homeless population. This can be due to issues such as sudden unemployment, illness or relationship breakdowns.”

“There is a lack of affordable housing options for women, including boarding house style accommodation that is safe for women. This helps to fill that gap,” she added.

“This temporary adaptive re-use of a development site as a short-term homeless shelter is a first for Uniting,” said Simon Furness.

“We will continue to look for other opportunities to use our buildings to accommodate those experiencing homelessness, and would encourage other building owners to do the same.”

In addition to this service, Uniting also provides services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness through its Doorways program. For more information about Uniting services visit the Uniting website.

For immediate assistance with crisis housing in NSW, call Link2Home on 1800 152 1521800 152 152


Media contacts

Uniting: Lee Webster
M: 0457 568 9380457 568 938