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 care (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, poverty, 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 burdens 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. 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 living or placement in an accessible home that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and includes universal design 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 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.