Population Spotlight: Older Adults

BEDS Plus has recently partnered with Aging Care Connections (ACC) to lease apartments near the new BEDS Linda Sokol Francis Summit Service Center. These units will be dedicated to older adults experiencing homelessness with serious medical conditions; they’ll receive intensive case management through Aging Care Connections and will be able to access nursing and clinical care and connections to Supportive Housing and human services through the Service Center. This program has been made possible by a grant from the Retirement Research Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life of older people. More about the foundation can be found HERE.

In 2020, the New York Times Magazine described elderly homelessness as “America’s next housing crisis.” Even before COVID-19, homelessness among older adults was increasing. In the wake of the pandemic, inflation, increasing rents, and the ever-present affordable housing shortage have pushed it to crisis proportions (see recent features about  Boise, Los Angeles, and Phoenix). Older adults have made up 7-8 percent of our clients during the past two years.

Why Is Homelessness Growing Among Older Adults?

Younger Baby Boomers make up growth among older adults experiencing homelessness. The Boomers include 70.4  million people born between 1946 and 1964. They account for nearly 50 percent of America’s household wealth, which led financial analysts to dub them “the wealthiest generation.” Their gaudy title only tells half their story, though; those born between 1955 and 1964 did not have the same level of success as those conceived earlier. They enrolled in college when student loan programs ballooned and were the first to take on substantial debt. They entered their 20s amid the Oil Embargo and Iran and Volcker recessions, and these tighter economies made establishing stable careers difficult. Not surprisingly, People of Color had even fewer chances. By 1983, Black unemployment had grown to 21.1 percent. During the same period, the social support structure was gutted (based in no small part on racial stereotypes), including cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other human services.

Some commentators have labeled this group “Boomers II” or “Generation Jones,” the latter of which evokes anonymity; striving or “keeping up with the Joneses;” “jonesing” or 70s slang for craving, and being lost amid grotesqueries of change like the myopic Mr. Jones in Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man. Their experiences rippled through the lives of their economically vulnerable members. The American Society of Aging lists the results including:

  • People 50 or older are the most likely to be “housing burdened”
  • People 50 or older make up 50 percent of single adults experiencing homelessness
  • People 65 or older are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population
  • The number of people 65 or older experiencing homelessness will triple by 2023

Older adults experiencing homelessness and imminent risk of homelessness have a range of needs that homeless services agencies like us must recognize.

How Does Homelessness Affect Them?

Homelessness worsens older adults’ health and behavioral health. The National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging reports that 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition (with 60 percent having two or more). These can include cancer, degenerative disease, depression and other mood disorders, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, infectious diseases, kidney disease, respiratory illness, and many others; older adults also have higher risks of COVID-19. Older adults experiencing homelessness and imminent risk of homelessness do not have the health insurance, benefits, or cash on hand to access healthcare. Lower-income and minority older adults may also distrust healthcare and social service providers, which prevents them from receiving help. But homelessness’ physical exertion, emotional stress, and malnutrition exacerbates their illnesses and leaves them vulnerable to new conditions. At the same time, the lack of a fixed residence and stigma surrounding homelessness cut them off from familial and social support networks.

You can support older adults experiencing homelessness with financial gifts here

Written by BEDS Plus Staff member: Grant Suhs