I worked full-time. But after divorce, I found myself on the brink of homelessness

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun24,2024
Divorce rates are going down overall, but the over-50s are bucking that trend. Why are more older couples calling it quits and what are the impacts? Watch Insight episode Silver Splitters on Tuesday 25 June at 8.30pm on SBS or on .
The romanticised image of retirement often depicts ‘grey nomads’ – adventurous retirees cruising the seas at will. 
This term could have applied to me, but for a far more devastating reason.
At retirement age, I found myself on the brink of homelessness.
While others my age were indulging in a nomadic lifestyle by choice, I was one by circumstance.
When I was 58, my marriage ended.
In the divorce settlement, selling our family home was the only option.

We owned our home but had just taken out a huge mortgage to completely renovate it.

A woman standing in front of a painting of herself.

Lyn says access to affordable temporary accommodation can help navigate single older women during the difficult transition period of divorce. Source: Supplied

The moment it all came crashing down

I never thought we’d separate just 12 months after taking out the loan, leaving us with few proceeds from the house’s sale.
Despite being a full-time midwife with a steady income, my age, sex and minimal superannuation meant securing a loan for another property was impossible.
It was then that I realised that divorce later in life can trigger a devastating domino effect, pushing women just like me into a desperate struggle for secure housing.
My ‘grey divorce’ experience coincided with a perfect storm of factors that created a housing crisis for me.
Suddenly, I found myself a renter again, competing with younger applicants in a market with skyrocketing prices.
Desperate to get back into the property market in 2008, I remember the moment I sat with a bank manager to see how much I could borrow.

His response shook me.

“You’re a 58-year-old female. We won’t give you a loan,” he said.
I was working full-time at this stage, having only taken time off in my career to have my four children, who were adults now.
His response left me devastated. I remember asking the bank manager a follow-up question.
“If I was my former husband sitting here and asking you the same question, asking you for a loan, would he get it?” I asked.

He looked at me straight in the eyes and said: “Yes.”

Left with no other choice

Unable to secure a loan or find a rental, I had no choice but to look at public housing.
I spoke to the Department of Housing for my local area, Wollongong, only to be told there was a 10-year waiting list for a single woman my age.
Waiting for public housing was now out of the question.
For the next two years, I house-sat, and lived with my children in a granny flat-style accommodation, but they too were renting as they were saving up to buy a house.
They became priced out of the area we were living in at the time and realised that the only way they could afford to buy a house was to make the big move out west — to Perth.

My life, my job, everything I knew was in Wollongong. Starting a whole new life in Perth at my age and being dependent on my children was not something I was willing to do.

Finding hope at the 11th hour

Right when I was looking into being forced to sleep in my car, I was fortunate enough to find affordable community housing — a privately owned subsidised unit — which I am still living in today.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones.
But it’s not lost on me that the current situation represents a failure in our social safety net. 
We cannot allow dedicated professionals like midwives, teachers, nurses, essential service workers and countless others to be cast adrift after a lifetime of service.
It’s time to redefine what ‘golden years’ mean for older women in Australia. 

Security, stability, and a safe roof over one’s head shouldn’t be a privilege reserved for the fortunate few, who have not had to face life as a single woman. 

My hope for the future

I want to live in a world where every woman, regardless of age or marital status, can age with dignity and security.
I want to enjoy the retirement I worked for over 50 years to secure.
I want to fulfil my love of cruising and travel, which was always in my future while I worked all those years.
I hope that in sharing my story, I’m not just seen as another statistic or prompt for policy change, but that it highlights the importance of ensuring older women who have spent decades contributing to society can find secure housing.

It’s about ensuring that the ‘grey nomads’ on our roads are truly living life to the fullest, not simply nomads because they have nowhere else to go.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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