By Frederick H. Lowe
The median age of the nation’s homeless population has dramatically risen over the last 15 years, and rise is being attributed in part to the lack of affordable housing.
The median age of homeless is now 50 years old compared to 35 years old in 1990, Judith G. Gonyea, professor of Social Research at Boston University, told attendees at the Gerontological Society of American conference last November in Orlando, Fla. Gonyea made her comments during a symposium titled “Gendered Tracjectories? The Pathways and Experiences of Older Homeless Adults.
Terri Lewinson, associate professor at Georgia State University, who shared the dais with Gonyea, said there were 578,424 homeless people in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Development’s homeless count, which occurs during the last week of January of each year.
The homeless count, however, dropped the next year. In January 2015, HUD reported 564, 708 people were homeless on a given night. The count is conducted by Continuums of Care.
The count measures the homeless staying in residential programs for homeless people and homeless people living in unsheltered locations. In 2014, some 69% lived in sheltered locations compared with 31% who lived in unsheltered locations including on the street, abandoned buildings, automobiles and parks, according to HUD.
The department defines a homeless person as someone currently living on the streets or in an emergency shelter or has been continuously homeless for one year or more or has at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years and has a disabling condition.
Dr. Lewison attributed the increase in the median of age of homelessness to an aging population, the housing bubble in which individuals lost their homes through foreclosure or their landlords lost their buildings through foreclosure.
African Americans comprised 40 percent, or 227,937, of homeless people in 2015, second only to whites. They represented 273,746 or 48.5 percent of the homeless population.
The Gerontological Society of America, which is based in Washington, D.C, reported that homeless people in their 50s have more geriatric conditions than those who are decades older living in homes. The University o California at San Francisco has followed 350 people who are homeless and aged 50 and older in Oakland. The median age was 58. The people who were followed had more trouble bathing, dressing and eating than 80 year olds who had housing, the report said.