The Rise of Homelessness in Ageing Women

SI UN Representatives, Maria Fornella and Frances Zainoeddin report from the Commission for Social Development 58th session (CSocD 58), which was held in New York during 10-19 February 2020.

“Soroptimist International organised a side event on ‘The Rise of Homelessness in Ageing Women’, to discuss the work being done by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) for homeless older persons and the policy changes that are necessary to prevent homelessness.

SI UN Representative, Frances Zainoeddin, and SI President, Sharon Fisher, speaking at the SI CSocD 58 side event in New York.

Speakers at the event were:

  • Sharon Fisher, President, Soroptimist International;
  • Jane Barratt, Secretary-General, International Federation on Ageing;
  • Kirin Taylor, Research Fellow, UNANIMA International;
  • Julia Wagner, Program Manager of ‘A Place to Call Home’, Institute of Global Homelessness;
  • Maria Fornella-Oehninger, Soroptimist International;
  • Frances Zainoeddin, NGO Committee on Ageing.


The speakers pointed to the fact that older women represented a fast-growing population in homelessness around the world. Causes of homelessness included: ageism and age discrimination in the work place which often results in forced retirement leaving older persons with little or no income security; eviction from homes because of inability to pay rent; loss of homes when they become widows because of absence of inheritance laws; abandonment by families; mental illnesses that often go undiagnosed due to lack of access to health care; impact of natural disasters affecting where they live. According to UNANIMA’s report, the two biggest reasons for older women becoming homeless are a lack of social protection floors and family breakup. After a lifetime of providing unpaid care for family, older women often live in poverty.

The Working Group to End Homelessness is urging the UN to address homelessness by first establishing a global definition of homelessness in order to gather aggregated and disaggregated comparable data, to enable monitoring and tracking process. The Working Group is working on advocacy and increasing awareness about the linkages of homelessness to the Sustainable Development Goals – urging Member States to consider and reaffirm that adequate housing is a basic human right, in accordance with Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commission for Social Development is expected to adopt the first-ever resolution on homelessness. Click here to read more about this groundbreaking resolution.

The side event acknowledged the incredible work that NGOs are doing to help the homeless. It also emphasised that policy must change in order to prevent homelessness. The ultimate goal must be to end homelessness”.

To read more about the key policy changes needed to prevent homelessness, follow the link to Soroptimist International’s written statement to CSocD58: ‘Affordable Housing and Social Protection Systems for all to Address Homelessness’.

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