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Older Adults Without A Place to Call Home—A Growing Crisis

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Richard T. Moore
October 22, 2020

As days grow shorter and the temperature starts dancing around the freezing mark, the majority of Americans are often thankful for the place they call home—be it ever so humble. Except in some urban centers, the homeless are nearly invisible, but their problems persist.

Older adults without a safe place to live have been a growing problem for decades. In reviewing the plight of older adults who are homeless, the National Commission on the Homeless wrote in 2008, “When thinking about homelessness, the elderly people issue doesn’t immediately come to our mind. Homeless elders, although increasing in numbers, continue to be a forgotten population.”

A few years after those troubling statistics were revealed, the Pew Research Center reminded us that the size of the older populations is increasing. As stated by Pew Research Center, “As the year 2011 began on Jan. 1, the oldest members of the Baby Boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday. In fact, on that day, today, and for every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. The aging of this huge cohort of Americans (26% of the total U.S. population are Baby Boomers) will dramatically change the composition of the country. “

This significant increase in older adults, many of whom failed to save adequately for their retirement, are not prepared for the future. According to Investopedia, “Baby Boomers—the generation born between 1946 and 1964—are heading into retirement in droves. Along with the aging of this iconic cohort comes a lot of data concerning their lack of preparation for their later years. Insufficient financial resources paint a gloomy picture for many retirees.”

Many didn’t create a financial plan for living over twenty years beyond retirement. Those who thought they were ready lost investments in the “Great Recession” of 2008, and the low interest rates that reduced the yield of other investment portfolios complicated that picture. Then, in 2020, along came the pandemic of COVID-19 that brought economic hardship, along with serious illness and death, to those in the older adult age bracket and above.

While many older adults were able to hold onto their homes in the Pandemic, the government-imposed moratorium on rents and mortgage payments will not last indefinitely. When that bill catches up, even the elderly will not be able to stave off the evictions that are likely to follow. On top of that crisis, COVID-19 is still with us. It’s hard to “shelter in place” when there’s no place to shelter,

As VOX reported recently, “The coronavirus has exposed the massive weaknesses in our already lacking social support infrastructure for the homeless. Shelters are too understaffed, under-resourced, and crowded to enforce proper social distancing and hygiene measures. Outdoor encampments lack basic sanitation. In some instances, the homeless are being shuttled to empty parking lots and told to sleep on asphalt.”

A housing crisis that puts a growing population of older adults at risk for homelessness presents another post-COVID dilemma. The Pandemic was especially tragic for older adults in nursing homes. As a result, there is a growing discussion in the literature and among public policy and health experts suggesting the need to re-imagine long term care. The Unites States Senate’s minority report from the Special Committee on Aging is advocating smaller homes with single rooms and more funding for home care. If we are to reduce the use of nursing homes as the housing default options for frail older adults, we will need to help seniors remain in their homes or in the community. That means, we need to increase the supply of affordable housing and rental assistance vouchers as well as home care services to help people stay out of traditional nursing homes.

The coronavirus outbreak shows infection control fails when residents share rooms, toilets and showers, and when staff is forced to rush from room to room. It’s also bad for quality of life. Robert Kramer, founder and strategic adviser of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, says nursing homes need to be arranged so people are not in such close proximity that it is difficult to control virus outbreaks, “Whether it’s seasonal flu or a new virus like COVID-19.”

But that will require increased Medicaid reimbursement to nursing homes and changes in regulations. Those are huge investments. Homelessness will also require a significant investment, but both problems cry out for action.

Public policy experts, many of whom are ASPA members, are positioned to tackle this dual problem of homelessness and long-term care reforms. Our profession is capable of providing needed research and implementation of solutions. It’s time for action!


Author: Richard T. Moore has served in both elective and appointed public office at local, state, and federal levels of government. He served for nearly two decades each in the Massachusetts House and Senate, as well as being chosen as President of the National Conference of State Legislatures. He also served for a time as President of the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association. Mr. Moore is a long-time member of ASPA serving terms as Massachusetts Chapter President and National Council member. His email address is [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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