'Suburban, normal' women becoming homeless

·3-min read

A former Sydney public relations executive who became homeless in her 60s says publicising her story led to a cascade of contact from regular, suburban women who had also fallen on hard times.

Glen-Marie Frost, 73, previously lived in a mansion in Bellevue Hill in Sydney's east, managed an international PR company and was head of communications and community relations for the Sydney Olympics.

She counted TV personality Kerri-Anne Kennerley and former NSW senator Helen Coonan among her friends.

She was married to a wealthy property executive but her husband plunged their family into debt in the 1980s without her knowledge, leaving her without assets following their divorce.

She then became unwell, had to close her executive coaching business and was homeless at 64.

Ms Frost told a NSW parliamentary inquiry into homelessness she now lives in public housing in inner Sydney's Woolloomooloo and is on a pension.

After going public with her story more than two years ago, Ms Frost said she was being contacted by other women looking for support.

"Becoming homeless ... has no discrimination," Ms Frost said on Monday.

"Most of these women came from suburban, normal lifestyles."

Many of the women who contacted Ms Frost had been living in their cars.

"They're not people to go to hostels ... it's just not who they are," she said.

The most recently-available Census data showed there are some 37,000 homeless people in NSW, and more than 100,000 in Australia, said Caitlin McDowell from the Community Housing Industry Association's (CHIA).

Research commissioned by CHIA showed NSW needed 317,600 new properties to meet demand to 2036 for social and affordable homes.

"That particular research was commissioned before COVID-19. We know that the situation will have deteriorated quite substantially since then," Ms McDowell said.

The red tape involved in applying for public housing also meant waiting lists were concealing a myriad of problems, she said.

Bee Teh was couch surfing with family while recovering from cancer, when her sister-in-law asked her to leave.

"I just drove around the Botanical Garden and then I just bawled. I just stopped the car and just started crying," Ms Teh told the inquiry.

She slept in the car park of Campbelltown Hospital, thinking it would be safe, and the following morning told hospital reception she needed help.

She was assigned a "very kind" social worker who helped her apply for public housing.

"It's very difficult ... because the forms you need to apply for housing - it's like you need a degree."

The first property she was placed into in Minto, in southwest Sydney, was infested with cockroaches that crawled over her face at night, and she became unsettled when a neighbour began looking into her window.

Ms Teh was eventually put into a permanent home by the Women's Housing Company, and now lives in Sydney's inner west and works at the University of Sydney.

"Permanent housing has allowed me to be a grandmother, a mother and my life can (now) go on," she said.

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