Increasing Numbers of Homeless Seniors


The number of homeless people over 50 is increasing at an alarming rate and they have limited resources for support,” according to a first-ever report on the issue released June 2, 2008 by the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness and Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Urban Research and Learning.

A Homeless senior citizen huddled up and sleeping outside in Eckhart Park at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Noble Street in May 2008.
Photo by Mary C. Johns

“The groundbreaking report, which for the first time tracks homeless individuals aged 50 – 64, found that a majority of people in this age group became homeless for the first time in middle age,” according to a press release on the report.

The groups stated that the nine-month study was created “in response to local homeless service agencies who were reporting an increasing number of older individuals seeking help.”

The study, which also offers “a comprehensive portrait of the older homeless, the issues they face and trends in the homeless population,” states that “between 2001 and 2006, Chicago-area agencies saw, on average, a 26 percent increase in older individuals needing services in the last five years.”

Significant findings in the “Homeless over 50: The Graying of Chicago’s Homeless Population” report includes homelessness among employable older individuals who find challenges to work and veterans being unable to access any military benefits.

Christine C. George, an assistant research professor at Loyola, stated in the press release that for the first time ever, she and others who research the data now have an inside look at this “forgotten segment of our population.”

“Important but often neglected issues such as proper nutrition, eye/vision care, or mental health greatly impact the quality of life for these individuals. This report should be used as a foundation to make some significant policy changes to better meet the needs of this group,” she added.

Nancy Radner, CEO of the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, said the report’s “surprising finding” is that “these are not individuals who have been living on the streets for 20 years. Rather, they are usually people employed in low-wage jobs and one personal catastrophe, such as an injury or hospital bill, pushes them over the edge into homelessness,” she said.

“While a younger person might bounce back by tapping into the resources of family or government-run programs, an older person generally has fewer options and eventually ends up homeless.”

The report’s authors recommend stronger partnerships between public and private agencies that serve people who are homeless and the aging, and the enactment of state universal paid sick time, so ailments and temporary disabilities don’t completely cut someone out of their job. They also suggest expansion of job training programs for individuals over 48 and improvements in the Social Security Income Program for people to be able obtain benefits.

The Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness plans to use the findings “to help shape the implementation of the Chicago Plan to End Homelessness.”

The study was built on a 2001 survey of more than 1,300 Chicago-area homeless people, in which one-fourth of them were over the age of 50, and from focus groups with 53 homeless individuals and 60 service providers. The trends and demographic information came from administrative data spanning 2001 to 2006. The report also includes 10 in-depth life history interviews conducted in 2007.

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