Elder Homelessness

Studies across the U.S. have shown a clear upward trend in the proportion of ‘older’ persons’ (aged 50-64) among the homeless population.

This is a group which frequently falls between the cracks of governmental safety nets. They are not old enough to qualify for Medicare, however, when their physical health is assaulted by poor nutrition and severe living conditions they may eventually resemble someone much older. There is a relatively low percentage of ‘elder’ (aged 65 and over) homeless persons’ among the current homeless population. This smaller proportion may be due to the increased availability of successful safety net programs, which only kick-in at a certain age including:

  • Subsidized Housing – Available at age 62
  • Medicare – Available at age 65
  • Social Security benefits – Available at age 65


Unhoused older adults face some serious challenges to their well-being relative to younger adults. Homeless persons between ages 50 and 62 often have similar healthcare needs to housed persons 10-20 years older. Studies show that older homeless adults have higher rates of geriatric syndromes including problems performing daily activities, walking, vision and hearing as well as falls and frailty when compared to the general population. Older homeless people are also more likely to suffer from cognitive impairments compared to younger homeless adults – Older homeless are likely to suffer from impairments resulting from depression or dementia, which can contribute to the worsening of their physical health. Isolation also contributes to homelessness among older persons.


  • Many older homeless persons are entitled to Social Security benefits. However, these benefits often fail to cover the cost of housing.
  • In 2010, the monthly SSI payment for an individual was $703 – well below the poverty line.
  • Research based on that figure shows that generally a person receiving SSI support cannot afford housing. A person receiving SSI support would have to pay 112% of that income to rent a one-bedroom apartment, or 99% for a studio/efficiency apartment.
  • The SSI payment is intended not only to pay for housing, but to supplement the costs of other basic needs. If SSI represented an individual’s entire income and the average costs of other essentials were subtracted, then $181 would be an affordable rental price for housing.


Increased homelessness among elderly persons is largely the result of poverty and the declining availability of affordable housing.

  • There are at least nine seniors waiting for every one occupied unit of affordable elderly housing nation-wide. Furthermore, the waiting list for affordable senior housing is often three to five years.



Greater recognition of the older/elder homelessness issue is needed. Federal, state, and local authorities have to be made aware of the specific needs and challenges faced by older adults and elderly persons who are homeless. 

Content courtesy NationalHomeless.org