According to The Rising Elderly Population, the latest report from our own Homelessness Research Institute, homelessness among the elderly is set to increase 33% between 2010 and 2010.
Bill: I think the primary thing that can be done right now is to trying shore up affordable housing programs on which elderly persons rely.
There’s a mix between project-based Section 8, housing choice vouchers, Section 202, Section 515. Because elderly persons have a diverse range of needs, they utilize a diverse range of federal programs and local programs. So I think it’s really critical that the housing stock in these programs be preserved.
Bill: It’s also critical that new housing units be created moving forward. Federal policy definitely has to move in a direction such that we’re dramatically expanding the availability of affordable housing that elderly persons rely on.
I also think that one of the things that’s critical from a homelessness perspective is that the job of ending chronic homelessness be completed. The projection is that there will be a 33% increase in elderly homelessness between 2010 and 2020 and a lot of the people that are chronically homeless now are in the “older adult but not yet elderly” category.
So the success that we can have in the next 10 years at actually housing the chronically homeless population, particularly the older adults, will go a long way to avoiding one of the pathways into elderly homelessness, which is older adults becoming elderly.
And one of the issues with that is that as they become elderly, their needs may change. So their needs in terms of the services, they’ll likely become more frail, so it’s important to get them into housing, so those needs can be anticipated and dealt with moving forward.
The third thing we can do, after we shore up the affordable housing stock and after we finish the job of ending chronic homelessness, is to better understand the elderly homeless population so that services and housing can be provided in a very targeted way.
One of the limitations in the research we were seeing – the studies we were cobbling together as a part of informing the background of this study – was that there’s very little that’s known about the elderly homeless population, in terms of how they use the shelter system, in terms of whether they’re episodic users of the system or chronic users, how they use the mainstream services and systems, including Social Security and Medicare – what their utilization is like of those sort of programs – and other sort of things about their characteristics, dynamics and location.
There’s a lot that’s not known about the elderly homeless population. Having better knowledge and a typology of the elderly homeless population is critical for being able to figure out whether or not there’s a set of prevention programs, for example, that could be put in place for elderly persons with low needs and whether or not there are service-enriched strategies that need to be put in place for people with higher needs and we need to figure out just how many people are in those two categories.