An alarming number of seniors (people 50 and older) in the US are homeless. Although delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic have put off recent counts, senior homelessness rates are rising. Between 2007 and 2017, homeless rates increased from 22.9 percent in 2007 to 33.8 percent in 2017 for people 50 and older. Unfortunately, the forecast is dire unless drastic measures are taken, with the number of homeless adults (65 and older) projected to triple by 2030.
With millions of older adults living on the economic edge due to a medical crisis, the loss of a spouse, or a limited fixed income, the end of the pandemic eviction moratorium will potentially put many more seniors at risk for homelessness. Especially vulnerable are the poor, many of whom live on no more than $1,000 a month in Social Security income. That’s barely enough to cover the costs of rent, utilities, medications, and food.
Causes of the Senior Homeless Crisis
Many contributing factors paved the way for the pending senior homeless crisis long before the pandemic.
While there’s no single narrative leading to the risk of homelessness for seniors, there are several contributing factors. For example, aging bodies making it more difficult to do physical labor, outsourced jobs, and a partner’s loss of income can all quickly send a person into a downward spiral.
In addition, many conditions that put increased economic strains on older Americans can be traced to the 1980s. For example, stagnated wages, disappearing fixed pension plans, and increased housing costs, hit those relying on fixed incomes especially hard.
More recently, the 2008 economic crisis contributed to the increased number of older Americans in the homeless population. Many people between the ages of 60 and 65 lost significant equity in their homes or lost their homes to foreclosure, pushing them into the unaffordable rental market. Further compounding the situation, older members of the workforce who lost jobs during the recession were less likely than younger people to find new ones.
The Impact of Homelessness on Seniors
Homelessness is challenging for anyone at any age. However, It can be especially grueling for older people. The difference between having a place to live and being homeless can happen due to one life-changing event—the loss of a spouse, death of a family caregiver, a chronic illness, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.
Although all homeless people can fall victim to the effects of poor nutrition, limited healthcare access, and the high-stress levels associated with homelessness, seniors also face specific health risks. For example, older people often struggle to manage chronic diseases. In addition, seniors living with diabetes or heart disease are frequently unable to make doctor appointments or adhere to specific medication regimens and diets crucial to maintaining their health.
According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, homeless seniors also face higher mortality rates. For example, adults 50 and older who are homeless have mortality rates four times higher than the general population.
Santa Clara County reported a record number of homeless deaths in 2020—more than 200—higher than any year in the past decade. Included in that count are approximately 141 unhoused seniors. It’s a stark reminder of the housing crisis in one of the nation’s wealthiest regions.
If You Need Assistance
If you are experiencing homelessness, are at risk of homelessness, or are experiencing food insecurity in Santa Clara County, California, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Santa Clara County offers homeless services and rent, utility, or food assistance.
The Countywide Shelter Hotline: (408) 278-6420 also provides resources to people currently experiencing homelessness. In addition, the Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System at (408) 926-8885 can help if your housing situation is unstable or you’re at risk of becoming homeless.
Help Us Help Homeless Seniors
No one wants to think of their grandparents ending up homeless. Together we can help organizations like the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Santa Clara County find solutions to make sure no one’s grandparents find themselves in that situation. After a life of hard work and raising families, they deserve our compassion.There are so many ways you can help us help those in need. There are multiple volunteer opportunities and several additional ways to support us. Your donations of cash, or even a car, can make a significant difference in the life of someone experiencing homelessness.