On an average night in 2022, more than 580,000 adults and children experienced homelessness in the U.S. That is down about 10 percent from 2007 as a result of increased federal funding for beds and services available to the homeless population. Adults experiencing homelessness are likely to include veterans, people with physical or mental illness, and those needing services in addition to just housing. They include a significant number of older adults, who may not be as resilient as younger people in the same situation. 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. According to AARP/Statista analysis of Census Bureau data, an estimated 238,083 older adults age 55 and older are expected to experience homelessness in 2023. And the number of older adults who experience homelessness is expected to rise.
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 when chronic, can contribute to decline in physical and mental health. This is due both to exposure to harsh environmental conditions as well as a lack of adequate medical monitoring and access to treatment.
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 experiencing homelessness 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 an individual’s physical, mental, and social needs. 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 Housing Accessibility in this chapter).
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 Housing Affordability in this chapter).
- 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 experience housing insecurity during declared emergencies. This may include using hotel rooms or building temporary units with modular construction.