On an average night in 2017, nearly 585,000 people were homeless in the U.S. That is down about 12 percent from 2007 as a result of increased federal funding for beds and services available to the homeless population. The number of homeless older adults is expected to rise. Homeless adults are likely to include veterans, people with physical or mental illness, and those in need of services in addition to just housing. They are less likely than younger people to survive exposure to the severe weather conditions people who are homeless must endure. They are also frequently exposed to unsafe and unsanitary conditions. This can exacerbate health problems that accompany aging.
Older adults with unaddressed housing needs have few options for shelter. Sometimes, they must choose between homelessness and placement in a nursing home because funding is limited to nursing home careA range of services provided in the home, including health-related care, personal care, and supportive services. (see also Quality in Skilled-Nursing Facilities).
Homelessness, especially chronic homelessness, can contribute to declines in physical and mental health. This is due both to exposure to harsh environmental conditions and the lack of adequate medical monitoring and access to treatment common among people with inadequate shelter.
Many factors contribute to homelessness, including unemployment, povertyThe federal government defines “poverty” as income below specific thresholds. These thresholds are adjusted annually for inflation and vary according to family size and the age of the head of the family., chronic mental or physical health problems, and lack of affordable housing. Efforts to reduce homelessness are more widespread. However, households with low incomes and those with high housing-cost burdensSpending more than the recommended 30 percent of gross income on housing. are still at risk of becoming homeless should their financial conditions worsen. Therefore, maintaining a supply of affordable and adequate housing, along with supportive services, can help families mitigate the risk of homelessness.
Homelessness can be addressed in part by permanent supportive housing A setting for long-term services and supports that includes board and care homes, assisted living facilities, and group homes that provide or arrange for services and help with activities of daily living (see separate entry) in a residential setting. . This combines affordable units with services specifically targeted to the physical, mental, and social needs of the individual. For older adults, services are provided that meet age-specific needs, such as help with activities of daily livingSkills necessary for daily care of oneself such as bathing and showering, personal hygiene and grooming, toilet hygiene and self-feeding. or placement in an accessible home that complies with the Americans with Disabilities ActLegislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. and includes universal design Features that allow products to be used by people of many ages and abilities. In the context of housing, universal design may include widened doors, accessible kitchens and bathrooms, and other architecturally friendly features that help people remain independent during different life… features to aid mobility (see also Housing Accessibility).
Homelessness prevention and support
Policymakers should take actions to prevent and address homelessness. This includes:
- expanding the availability of subsidized housing, including housing with services (see also Subsidized Housing and Supportive Services in Housing).
- placing greater emphasis on early interventions. This includes emergency assistance to prevent evictions and foreclosures, as well as supports for people who are at risk of homelessness. Housing assistance should not require completion of drug rehabilitation or other programs.
- developing a continuum of transitional and supportive housing A setting for long-term services and supports that includes board and care homes, assisted living facilities, and group homes that provide or arrange for services and help with activities of daily living (see separate entry) in a residential setting. arrangements.
- increasing funding for shelters, day-use centers, and services that support people who are homeless. Congress should fund assistance at least at current levels.
- expanding access to safe housing for people who are homeless in declared emergencies. This may include using hotel rooms or building temporary units with modular construction.