Homelessness for older people in Whanganui has become a "critical issue" over the last two years.
Age Concern Whanganui manager Michelle Malcolm said the issue had increased with the lack of housing and rising living costs.
"There has been two situations in the last six months where an older person came to Age Concern with nowhere else to go, and in one instance we had to find accommodation for them that afternoon," Malcolm said.
Age Concern Whanganui is one of the community-based not-for-profit organisations in Whanganui offering services and information to enhance the quality of life for older people.
Karen Kitson is a social worker with over 30 years of experience and said her role at Age Concern as a social worker was the most complex of all her previous roles.
"No social work is simple but when you're working with an older person you're also often working with the many complexities of many family dynamics," Kitson said.
"For people who come to Age Concern as a last resort there is emergency housing through the Ministry of Social Development, but it didn't always suit an older person who might have health or mobility issues."
It also wasn't always a good option to stay with a friend for someone who was older, Kitson said.
"Some older people are really struggling. If you're living pension to pension and then regularly forking out $80 to go see a doctor, it's hard."
Currently, the New Zealand Superannuation provides a single person living alone $463 a week, a single person sharing a home with others $427 a week, a married, civil union or de facto couple $356 a week if one partner qualifies, and $712 a week for a couple where both partners qualify.
Age Concern social worker Lorraine Te Pou said often due to rising costs they end up with just the bare essentials.
"If they have to find their own transport because their family isn't here, and food on top of that, they're not left with a lot," Te Pou said.
The struggle didn't stop at older homeowners either.
"There's the kiwi dream of owning your own home and having your mortgage paid off by the time you're 65, but no one tells you how you'll pay for a new roof at 85 when you're living off a pension," Malcolm said.
"This can often lead to self-neglect, which we have also seen a rise in cases for."
She said often the cases of "self-neglect" were where people struggled with household chores and were unable to get assistance because they did not meet the criteria.
"As things get worse, people are then embarrassed to say how bad it's gotten.
"And when someone is going through self-neglect, the risk is higher for something else to then happen to them."
Kitson said sometimes older people would choose to live in conditions that were not ideal, and if they didn't want to do anything about it, Age Concern couldn't do anything either.
"You've got to support the person around what they want to do. Everyone has the right to choose."
Malcolm said there was often a misconception that Age Concern had the ability to interfere and remove a person experiencing elder abuse, but they didn't.
"We aren't a statutory authority, and it's always about what the older person wants."
In 2021, Age Concern Whanganui received 129 referrals, and 95 so far in 2022.
"The rise could be because of strengthened relationships with the police, but it's impossible to know," Kitson said.
Malcolm said it didn't matter whether the numbers were low or high.
"There's no rhyme or reason to it because we know out of those 95 referrals, it's the tip of the iceberg because many people don't report," she said.
Age Concern receives most of its referrals from the police and the District Health Board, but also self-referrals, concerned neighbours and family, and St John ambulance.
The Ministry of Social Development released a document in 2019 that outlined six forms of elder mistreatment: psychological abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, institutional abuse and neglect.
It showed that family members are responsible for over 70 per cent of elder abuse, and approximately half of all elder abuse is committed by adult children.
"Often elder abuse involves other family members, and people don't want to report on their own family, let alone their children," Malcolm said.
"They also then don't want the consequences of what happens once it gets reported because it can often lead to a breakdown in the family or police involvement, and something might happen to the family member."
She said the current older population was a resilient generation not used to asking for help.
"So when someone rings us we try to engage as quickly as we can."
Kitson said they see lots of psychological abuse and control, sometimes by itself and sometimes paired with other forms of abuse such as financial abuse.
"Financial abuse is what we see the most, and unfortunately, a lot of that comes from family."
Of the 129 referrals in 2021, 22 per cent were for financial abuse.
Kitson said Age Concern had uncovered major financial abuse, many through referrals from banks.
Malcolm said due to the housing crisis and rising cost of living, they were seeing more families living together and in some cases, the expectation the older person will pay for everything for the family.
"Or using mum's bank card to get her groceries, then putting our groceries on the card too, thinking it's ok. It's not okay."
She said over the last few years there had been a shift in many agencies from working with the individual to working with the whole family and wider community.
"You can't look at an individual without looking at what's going on in the wider community around them. You miss many complexities of a situation if you only look at the individual.
"We can be independent, but we all need people. People seem to think they have to do everything by themselves but they don't. We all need help and it's alright to ask."