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My fantasy of aging in a share house is dead – my friends now joke darkly about living together in cars | Deirdre Fidge

Remember the old friendship trope “if we’re both single when we’re older, let’s get married” seen in films like My Best Friend’s Wedding?

The modern version of that seems to be “if we’re both homeless when we’re older, let’s live in our cars”. Or more realistically: when, not if. As property prices and costs of living continue their upward trajectory and wage growth remains stagnant – or even slipping downward – more of these conversations pop up among friends.

One friend and I recently discussed the logistics of this, laughing so hard there were tears (severe stress will do that to a person). We have it all sorted: two hatchbacks, boots popped open and connected at the rear, creating a sort of adult fort. All we need is a disco ball. Party’s at our place, folks, as long as everyone brings snacks and a disregard for personal space.

On a personal level it’s fascinating (another word for horrifying) how quickly this reality has shifted from my original plan when I was in my early 20s. Back then, I thought a Golden Girls-esque share house could be an option for some of us: we’d look after each other! Eat cheesecake together! I’d throw in a witty and disparaging remark every so often (I’m a Dorothy at heart).

But older women are the fastest-growing cohort of homeless Australians and that’s been the case for the last several years. The odds of any of us owning a home, let alone one with multiple bedrooms, is almost as laughable as the time the Golden Girls accidentally booked accommodation at a nude resort. (I have never seen another television show.)

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This is not to make light or minimize the bleak reality. As a social worker I met many people who spent each night trying to find a place to sleep that was warm and dry and I did not come from wealth so have always been acutely aware of this being a possibility in my future. There is a housing crisis nationwide as public and private options for a roof over one’s head all seem impossible, and was summed up pretty well by a Newcastle gentleman last month during a visit from the PM.

When I feel uncharacteristically optimistic or taken by a flight of fancy, I will search property listings for tiny one-bedroom flats. Even my fantasies are cloaked in reality as I slide the price filter almost entirely to the left, closer to exactly zero than six of them. If I’ve had a knock-off pint I might indulge in selecting to view only properties with a balcony. After multiple lockdowns I have a newfound appreciation for air, one of the few remaining resources that doesn’t yet cost me money. But I dare not ask for a back yard—who do I think I am, the Queen of England?

Most listings begin with a description such as “A wonderful investment to add to your portfolio!” and the shock propels me backwards. Once I scoop myself off the pre-stained carpet of my rental, I wonder: has this website mistaken me for some sort of property developer? I continue searching. “A must-see for any savvy investor!” Even the language around home ownership has morphed into a complete acceptance that chances are, anyone looking to buy is already in the market. Homes are not a human right but an opportunity for investment. The rich get richer, the poor live in hatchbacks (if they have one).

So why do we make these silly jokes about disco balls and car parties? To survive, I guess, and to conserve energy to keep fighting. A sense of complete abandonment from our leaders is not new to many people during these last few years of the pandemic, and particularly not new to people who are well-equipped in living with disadvantage and inequality.

I’m grateful to have friendships that contain a mutual understanding that we won’t let the other one slip off the radar. Our (car) door is always open. Once I figure out how to stream from the back seat, who’s up for rewatching Golden Girls?

Deirdre Fidge is a writer and social worker who has written for ABC’s Get Krackin’, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, and for the BBC. Her work has appeared in ABC News, SBS, the Sydney Morning Herald and Frankie magazine among others

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