When a house is a home

Maeve's little house, image courtesy of happydacks on flickr.
Maeve’s little house, image courtesy of happydacks on flickr.

All the talk of the gender salary gap and whether or not you can you live on $32 a day as a sole-parent could be enough to make you despair (who would have thought there would be gender-gap deniers, and of course you don’t live on that amount, you endure a miserable existence). But whatever figures and statistics you look at, there’s no denying that women are bearing the brunt of these inequities.

We’ve mentioned before that if you’re a woman, a lone-parent and from a non-English speaking background, your risk of poverty is just about tripled. While the link between poverty and homelessness is relatively straightforward—if you can’t keep up with your rent you lose the roof over your head—the reasons for women’s homelessness can be more complex and are connected to the unequal position women have in our society. Women are more at risk of being homeless because of their greater exposure to violence and poverty (due to lower-paying jobs; insufficient superannuation; and the impact of separation and divorce: gender-gap salary deniers take note).

In 2009-10, 62% of people who accessed homelessness specialist services were women. Yet we know that immigrant and refugee women are less likely than Australian-born women to seek support from homeless services.

Immigrant and refugee women’s reluctance to seek help are varied: lack of knowledge about services; language and structural barriers; or lack of confidence. For many women, especially those who are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, or economic abuse, asking for help might also be seen as equivalent to losing your pride and self-esteem.

Finding somewhere to live is not always or only about affordable housing, it’s about finding a home where you can also feel safe and secure.

This is the idea behind the projects delivered by the non-profit housing provider,Women’s Housing Limited. Women’s Housing provides award-winning apartment complexes around Melbourne specifically designed for women on low incomes who have experienced a housing crisis. Rent is generally set at between 25%-70% of market rent to make it affordable for women on Centrelink payments. The housing is purposely sourced for its proximity to transport, schools, shops, and other local amenities. Homes are also built using environmentally sustainable design principles: the six star energy rating means women’s heating and cooling bills are kept to a minimum. And they look good. Housing that can be proudly called home.

It’s not often we see a basic human right being explicitly recognised and purposefully acted upon. We have an ethical responsibility to ensure that this type of work continues.