Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Homeless Older Adults

People 55 and older make up an increasing number and proportion of homeless adults. That's a key finding in a report presented by our homelessness study team to the Gerontological Society of America a few weeks ago. Ten years ago, about 1 of 25 homeless adults was 55+; today, it's almost 1 of 12.

This reflects a general trend we've noted earlier: With respect to our aging population, we can expect more of everything. More people will live longer. Many of them will remain healthy and active into the 70s and beyond; many others will live with chronic conditions that limit their ability to do everything they want to do, and even to care for themselves. (Some recent research suggests, incidentally, that the generations coming into their sixties and seventies now might not experience the disabilities of aging in the same proportions as previous generations. If this turns out to be the case, as perhaps further research will show, that would be very fortuitous.)

In any case, we can expect more homeless older adults, or at least more older adults at risk for homelessness.

In Minnesota, based on the most recent survey by Wilder Research, the majority of homeless adults are male; 44% of homeless males over age 55 are military veterans. About half of homeless older adults are persons of color, compared to about 10% of Minnesota's overall population.

The Wilder Research study found a number of differences between homeless adults over age 55 and those below that age. Older homeless adults are only half as likely to be working for pay; they more likely receive income from General Assistance, Social Security (old age benefits, disability insurance, and/or supplemental security income). Their monthly incomes tend to be higher than the incomes of younger homeless adults. Older homeless adults report more chronic health conditions that limit daily activities; in general, they have a greater level of physical and mental distress, compared to younger homeless adults.

In addressing homelessness, we need to understand that it can involve all ages, and different age groups can have different types of needs.