Homeless Amongst the Elderly

Published By: Shafiqul Bhuiya

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It’s no question that the U.S. population is aging. The U.S. census bureau has released data that shows the rapid increase of the 65 and older population in the United States. This segment of the U.S. population has grown by over 34% over the last 10 years. This is being driven by the aging of the so called “baby-boomer” generation. This increase in the 65 and older population has increased the national median age from 37.2 to 38.9 years old. The rapid increase in this population has broader consequences. In conjunction with the increase in the national population, the percentage of the elder homeless population has increased as well. The aging of the homeless population has broad implications and will strain existing safety nets.

When talking about the homeless population, the term elder homeless individual can refer to a wide variety of ages.  Some restrict that definition to 65 years and older, while others consider 50 and above as elders. However, what can be stated for certain is that the age of the homeless population and those utilizing homeless services are increasingly older in age. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in its 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, the number of homeless people 50 and over in emergency shelters or transitional housing increased from 22.9% in 2007 to 33.8% in 2017. Similarly, states such as Los Angeles and Portland have seen upwards of 20% increases in senior homelessness (55 and older). Moreover, the University of Pennsylvania projects senior homelessness in the U.S. to triple by 2030.

The increase in senior homelessness has a variety of causes. One main pathway to senior homelessness is the aging of the chronically homeless. Many seniors who are currently homeless, have come from a cycle of chronic homelessness. Furthermore, many seniors attribute their homelessness to a loss of income, insufficient public assistance, medical issues, and an inability to pay for rising rent prices. As the baby boomer generation ages, meeting their needs effectively will be imperative to reduce the risk of homelessness. Our current safety nets must be dramatically increased to meet this need.

Senior homelessness brings with it unique challenges and consequences. Homeless seniors are more likely to experience multiple medical issues, as well as have more chronic conditions compared to the general homeless population. These consequences are exacerbated by the realities of homeless life. Without proper nutrition, rest, or a place to store medications, adherence to medical regiments are increasingly difficult. Furthermore, homeless seniors have an increased mortality rate compared to the general population due to unmet healthcare needs, as well as a lack of substances use treatment.

Even though there is an increase in senior homeless, there are still resources that they may take advantage of to alleviate some of the factors that lead to homelessness. For instance, many seniors are able to take advantage of resources available to them by the government. Many seniors are eligible for government programs such as SSI, Medicare, and SNAP. In addition to these resources, the homeless elderly can also take advantage of housing assistance resources. They can participate in general housing assistance programs such as housing choice vouchers and public housing. Additionally, the HUD also provides housing assistance specifically to the elderly, via the Section 202 supportive housing for the elderly program. This program expands the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for the elderly. An expansion in these services will be critical in order to mitigate the projected increase in senior homelessness.


About the author
Shafiqul Bhuiya
Shafiqul Bhuiya is a Bangladeshi-American from Bronx, New York. He has graduated with a Masters in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Central Florida and aspires to become a Physician Assistant. He is currently working as a Molecular Technologist in Infectious Disease testing. Shafiqul enjoys exercising, playing video games, and volunteering with Project Downtown Orlando during his free time. He believes in the power of proper healthcare and the hope it can bring to people in need.

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