Homeless Baby Boomers a Fast-Growing Presence in U.S. Cities

The Philadelphia Inquirer 

If current trends continue, the number of aging homeless people will more than double in three major metropolitan areas by 2030, straining social and medical services, a report released Tuesday concluded. It said improvements in housing, plus services aimed at preventing medical crises, could save cities money and improve quality of life for older homeless people.

The report was the work of researchers from several universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware, and was funded by four foundations. Data from New York, Boston, and Los Angeles County were analyzed. An invitation-only group of government and managed care leaders met to discuss the report Tuesday in Washington.

Dennis Culhane, a social policy professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice who was principal investigator of the study, said the team found that it would be “cheaper to provide a housing solution” than to continue allowing aging homeless people to spend too much time in hospitals and nursing homes because they have no other options.

Philadelphia’s homeless shelters also are struggling with an influx of older homeless people who have complex medical problems the shelters are not designed and staffed to handle. The city is working with area hospitals to provide better transitional care for homeless patients who no longer need hospital treatment but are too sick to live safely in most city shelters.

The report said the coming boom in aging homeless people stems from a wave of younger, less educated baby boomers who faced economic challenges in their youth — falling wages and rising housing costs — and never recovered financially. A disproportionate number wound up homeless, an effect that has persisted for decades.

Now in their 50s and 60s, they are biologically older than most people their age and already facing the medical problems of the aged. The average lifespan for a homeless person is 64, but many will live longer than that, Culhane said.

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