Written, directed and produced by Sue Thomson
According to Sue Thomson's new documentary, Under Cover, more than 400,000 Australian women over the age of 55 are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. In fact, single women in this age group are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population in the country.
The power of Under Cover is that it allows a diverse group of these women to speak for themselves. Despite the confronting nature of its topic, the film is heartwarming because the women graciously share their lives.
Far from being anonymous statistics, they are recognisable as people you might know. When they speak of the circumstances beyond their control that have devastated their lives, it resonates.
The women warn that it does not take much to end up homeless, just a succession of accumulating setbacks.
Their individual stories vary, but there are common threads: domestic violence, racism, losing a job and age discrimination in finding another, and meagre superannuation because of taking time off work to raise children. The background of all these situations is the social structure of sexism and behind that, capitalism.
Australian government policies are designed to drive up the prices of new houses, which in turn increases rents. The profits come from providing housing as a commodity rather than as a human right.
In Under Cover we meet women who are living in cars, being super-exploited in caravan parks or skating from short-term options such as friends’ couches to the streets and back again, ever fearful of the next disaster. One woman speaks of the daily reality of coping with cockroaches, mice and rats.
Having a woman in her 80s, who moves with the aid of a walking frame, looking you straight in the eyes from the screen and quietly talking about having nowhere to live is potent. However, that the film uses no emotional manipulation makes the reality unavoidable.
Filmmaker Sue Thomson focuses on a few laudable not-for-profit groups that are creating accommodation for women over 55. However, their work is clearly unable to address the needs of nearly half a million women, and the political silence resounds.
[Watch the film's trailer here.]