When Older Americans Month was established in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. A meeting in April 1963 between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” now known as “Older Americans Month.” Every President since Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation during or before the month of May asking that the entire nation pay tribute in some way to older adults in their communities.

Led by the Administration for Community Living (ACL) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), this year’s theme, Aging Unbound, offers us an opportunity to highlight important trends and strengthen our commitment to honoring our older adults. Hubert Humphrey, who served as U.S. Vice President from 1965-1969, said, “…the moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly.”

According to ACL’s 2021 Profile of Older Americans, five million people aged 65 and older lived below the poverty level. At least 2.6 million older adults were classified as “near poor,” meaning their incomes were between the poverty level and 125 percent more than poverty level. Poverty affects older adults differently than other groups because they are more vulnerable to economic instability when their physical health, cognitive abilities, and social networks decline. Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked: when economic instability increases, so does the risk of homelessness. Thus, older Americans living in poverty are at increased risk of becoming homeless or experiencing housing instability.

The aging population is growing: by 2040, there will be about 80.8 million older Americans, which will account for 22 percent, almost one-fourth, of the population. As the aging population grows so does their rate of homelessness. Moreover, projections based upon analysis of three major U.S. cities estimates that homelessness among older adults is expected to nearly triple in 2030. Additionally, the homeless population, overall, continues to get older.

Unlike housed older adults who tend to age in place, this population is aging into homelessness.

The root causes of homelessness among older adults are diverse. These can include community-level factors such as lack of accessible and affordable housing and limited safety net resources. They also may include individual risk factors, such as medical problems, health-related behaviors such as substance use disorders, social factors (e.g., social isolation, barriers to transportation), and financial insecurity. Key efforts to address homelessness among older adults not only include building and maintaining partnerships among the various sectors who engage with older adults, but it also demands the leveraging of public funding.

Read the full article about elderly homeless population by Yolanda Stevens at National Alliance to End Homelessness.