OLDER ADULT HOMELESSNESS
According to May 2023 data , there are 770 single older adults (55+ years) experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This group accounts for 36% of the overall single adult homeless population. Single older adult homelessness has increased 3% in the past two years.
These data are consistent with national reports and research which show that the median age of the homeless population in the United States is rising. Research by Kushel and colleagues suggests that older adults make up approximately 50% of the single adult homeless population. The rise in older adult homelessness is expected to continue, with research by Culhane and colleagues suggesting that the population of homeless adults aged 55 and older is projected to double or triple between 2017 and 2030 in large urban cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City.
Given the current and expected increases, there is a growing need to develop and implement effective models of care to address the unique needs of this vulnerable population.
Older homeless adults age 55 and older face unique challenges and vulnerabilities compared to their younger counterparts. Research on older adults experiencing homelessness suggests that contributing factors vary by age of homeless onset. For older adults who experienced late onset homelessness, factors that contribute to their homelessness include but are not limited to:
Economic challenges: Many older adults have limited income, insufficient savings or assets, or a lack of safety net resources to manage a health or financial crisis. Incomes of the lowest-income older adults have not increased with rising rents, putting older adults at risk of homelessness due to their inability to afford housing costs. While Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are vital resources for older adults, the amounts are insufficient to meet their housing costs and other essential expenses like food, transportation, and healthcare.
Housing access: Rents have risen rapidly leading to an increase in the number of cost-burdened older adult renters. In addition, rising housing costs can make it difficult for older adults on fixed incomes to find affordable housing. This is particularly exacerbated in areas with high housing demand. Finally, there is a lack of accessible and available units for older adults with mobility challenges or disabilities further limiting the number of safe, affordable units to meet the needs of this population.
Social isolation: Lack of family or social support networks can increase an individual’s vulnerability to homelessness. A 2004 study found that half of individuals 50 or older were living alone right before they became homeless .
Housing Discrimination: Black, African American, and African persons experience homelessness at rates significantly higher than Whites. Older homeless adults experience similar disproportionately. These disparities are a direct result of the ongoing effects structural racism. Discrimination in housing markets, redlining, and predatory lending practices have contributed to the racial wealth gap and housing disparities. This discrimination still exists today and can be compounded by age-related housing discrimination which ultimately impacts an individual’s ability to obtain affordable housing.
Homeless older adults have unique and complex needs, including early onset of aging-related conditions. They experience premature aging and premature mortality. A significant percentage of homeless older adults struggle with basic activities of daily living, falls, cognitive impairment, hearing and visual impairments, and chronic disease management. Additionally, homeless older adults have a high prevalence of chronic medical conditions with many experiencing multiple chronic illnesses.
Homeless older adults also have a higher prevalence of substance use disorders and mental health conditions compared to the general older adult population. Around 75% of homeless older adults reported having one or more psychiatric conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.