Homelessness rates are rising among people aged 65 and over. In addition to the dangers unhoused people face on the street, there are exponential effects on their access to health care.
Barriers to accessible housing mean that more seniors are exposed to deadly medical conditions and are less likely to receive the preventative care they need to treat existing chronic health care issues.
Older People Experiencing Homelessness
People over age 65 are a part of a vulnerable population. They experience higher rates of chronic diseases, lack access to preventative care, and are more likely to struggle to get nutritious food. Housing insecurity exacerbates these problems, and a snowball effect leads to a greater chance of adverse health outcomes.
The number of seniors experiencing homelessness is expected to continue to grow over the next decade. A 2019 study published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness focused on senior populations in three major American cities: New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Studying these populations helped experts predict the increase in homelessness rates among seniors, the causes and effects of housing insecurity among older people, and what subgroups need in order to eliminate homelessness.
According to the research findings, the rates of homelessness among seniors aged 65 and older in each city studied have increased yearly since 2011.
Number of Unhoused Seniors in Cities Included in the Study
In each of the cities studied, the number of older people who face homelessness or housing insecurity is projected to grow exponentially.
- New York City – The number of unhoused adults older than 65 living in New York was 2,600 in 2017. The rate of homelessness among seniors in New York may grow to 6,900 by 2030.
- Boston – In 2017, 570 seniors experienced housing insecurity or homelessness. By 2030, that number is expected to increase to 1,560.
- Los Angeles County – The number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles is staggering. The city has a reputation for high rates of homelessness. In 2015, the city reported 4,700 unhoused seniors. By 2030, the number of seniors experiencing homelessness is forecasted to reach 13,900.
Reported Causes of Homelessness Across the Baby Boomer Generation
The Baby Boomer generation has lived through its share of economic instability. Multiple recessions, increasing inflation, and rising housing costs may be among the culprits for the financial crises facing this group. Meanwhile, a lack of a solid social safety net has left seniors vulnerable to housing insecurity as they age.
Lack of Housing and Adverse Health Consequences Among Seniors
There is undoubtedly a connection between homelessness and health outcomes. Cost and access to health care are both affected by housing status. Stable and affordable housing increases the chances of positive physical and mental health outcomes.
Homelessness is a public health issue. People experiencing homelessness will likely experience a higher rate of health problems, including:
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- HIV infection
The increased rates of health problems among unhoused people are usually the result of several factors, including limited access to social services, inadequate food, no protection from the elements, and other barriers to health care.
Supportive Housing in Ending Homelessness
Policymakers share the responsibility to end homelessness and mitigate its effects. The country’s leaders have legal and policy interventions to consider in addressing homelessness.
Supportive housing may be one possibility that can help lower the cost of health care while getting and keeping people in affordable homes. Supportive care includes providing unhoused people with affordable housing options plus coordinated social services. These social services may be designed to help individuals and families gain access to:
- Medical care/insurance coverage
- Substance abuse and mental health services
- Financial support
Easing the burden that older adults face when deciding between maintaining housing and paying for health expenses will decrease the homelessness rate among this demographic. The removal of stress caused by housing instability allows seniors to focus on treating their health conditions, thereby improving survival rates and quality of life.
Increased funding to state Medicaid/Medicare programs and managed care organizations may be part of the solution. These programs pay for support services like the ones listed above, as well as tenants’ rights and responsibility training, eviction prevention, and housing location services.
Affordable Housing Options for Seniors
Closing the housing affordability gap is essential to improving health outcomes for seniors. If you are looking for affordable housing options for seniors, start here for ideas related to your search.