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Homelessness Among Elderly Persons
Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, September 2009. When thinking about homelessness, the elderly people issue doesn’t immediately come to our mind. Homeless elders, although increasing in numbers, continue to be a forgotten population. The poverty rate in 2008 (13.2 percent) was the highest poverty rate since 1997. Since 1960, the number of people below poverty line has not exceeded the 2008 figure of 39.8 million people. The poverty rate remained statistically unchanged for people 65 and over (9.7 percent). Both the poverty rate and the number in poverty remained statistically unchanged for people 65 and older, at 9.7 percent and 3.7 million in 20081. Among this growing population of older adults living in poverty are people forced to grow old in the streets and in shelters, elderly persons who have recently become homeless or who remain at constant risk of losing housing. The number of elderly adults who have become homeless has increased around the county. An example of this increase has occurred in Massachusetts, where from 1999 to 2002, the number of people over 55 using shelters increased by 60% (HEARTH, 2007).
DEFINITIONS AND DIMENSIONS
Definitions of aged status in the homeless vary from study to study. However, there is a growing consensus that persons aged 50 and over should be included in the "older homeless" category. Homeless persons aged 50-65 frequently fall between the cracks of governmental safety nets: while not technically old enough to qualify for Medicare, their physical health, assaulted by poor nutrition and severe living conditions, may resemble that of a 70-year-old. Among the Sheltered Homeless Persons in 2008, 16.8% of them were 51 and older according to the 2008 annual homeless assessment report to Congress and 30.6% of the individuals who stayed in emergency shelters for more than 180 days were 51 and older.
U.S. Census Bureau Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008
Increased homelessness among elderly persons is largely the result of poverty and the declining availability of affordable housing among certain segments of the aging. Throughout the nation, there are at least 9 seniors waiting for every occupied unit of affordable elderly housing (HEARTH, 2007). Among households with very low incomes, households headed by an elderly person have almost a one-in-three chance of having worst case needs, despite the fact that housing assistance has been heavily directed toward elderly people. The number of older people experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts increased in the past decade. A study of selected urban areas in the USA, Australia, and England published in 2004 revealed that the City of Boston experienced a 39% increase since 1993 (Crane, 2004). Supplemental Security Income (SSI) greatly reduces the depth of poverty and hardship experienced by the low-income elderly. In 20082, the share of Americans who live in “deep poverty” — that is, whose cash incomes fall below half of the poverty line — reached its highest level since 1994. Some 5.7 percent of Americans — or 17.1 million of them — had incomes below half of the poverty line. Half of the poverty line in 2008 was $8,582 for a family of three and $11,013 for a family of four. The current maximum monthly SSI benefits ($674.00 for an individual) remains well below the poverty line. Furthermore, the waiting list for affordable senior housing is often three to five years. With less income for other necessities such as food, medicine, and health care, these populations are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. Overall economic growth will not alleviate the income and housing needs of elderly poor people, as returning to work or gaining income...