Among the most heartbreaking sights in our country today is that of older adults living on the streets. Sadly, the problem of senior homelessness is expected to worsen in the coming years, driven in part by the rapid growth in the number of seniors. Neither the United States government nor its citizens should be willing to accept that so many of its older citizens are forced to live without adequate shelter and appropriate care. To solve this problem, we need to make ending senior homelessness a national priority; engage the public and private sectors at all levels; understand that the causes of senior homelessness are often unique to their demographic; and commit to treating the problem with targeted responses.
Studies have demonstrated that allowing an individual to remain chronically homeless can cost taxpayers as much as $50,000 annually.
The Homelessness Research Institute estimates that, if shelter and poverty rates remain constant, the number of homeless older adults will rise from approximately 44,000 in 2010 to about 59,000 in 2020, an increase of 33 percent. By 2050, the institute projects the senior homeless population could increase to nearly 95,000. Like their younger counterparts, the older adult homeless are high frequent users of emergency medical and other health care services. Studies have demonstrated that allowing an individual to remain chronically homeless can cost taxpayers as much as $50,000 annually.
Some chronically homeless adults are unable to break the cycle of homelessness and continue to age into their senior years without stable housing. Others experience homelessness for the first time as an older adult. The tragic causes of senior homelessness include financial difficulties, scarcity of affordable housing, long waiting lists for subsidized housing, alcohol abuse, mental health issues and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Without a doubt, these challenges will only be compounded by the growth in the overall senior population: By 2030, more than 74 million Americans will be 65 or older.
But the United States has proven that its citizens can achieve large, complex objectives when we put our minds to it. We should not accept a sharp increase in senior homelessness as the inevitable byproduct of a rapidly aging society.