Older Adults Experiencing Homelessness Are Less Likely Than Younger Adults to Receive Permanent Supportive Housing

A new report published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), “Connecting Older Adults to Housing: Examining Disparities,” analyzes the ways older adults (aged 55 and over) exit homelessness. The report finds that older adults are less likely to receive Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) than younger adults and tend to rely on housing solutions outside of homelessness systems more often. The report also identifies racial and age-related disparities in the receipt of housing assistance among older adults experiencing homelessness: older Black and Hispanic adults and adults aged 75 or older are disproportionately less likely to receive PSH, according to the findings.

Using data collected on homeless adults through the 2018 Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT), the authors found that older adults were most likely to exit homelessness through Rapid Rehousing (RRH) (16%) or PSH (18.9%). Older adults, however, were less likely to access these housing interventions than adults aged 25 to 54. While 48.3% of younger adults exited through RRH or PSH, only 34.9% of older adults received these services. Compared to younger adults, older adults were more likely to exit homelessness by moving in with family (15.5% vs. 6.4%), passing away before exiting homelessness (3.9% vs. 0.9%), or finding solutions outside of the homeless services system (16.4% vs. 7%).

Although PSH was still the most common pathway out of homelessness for older adults, the likelihood of receiving a PSH placement decreased with advanced age. While more than 22% of homeless adults aged 55 to 64 received PSH, less than 2% of homeless adults aged 75 or older received it. Nearly 23% of homeless adults aged 75 or older exited homelessness through RRH compared to approximately 15% of older adults aged 55 to 74. The authors offer some potential reasons for this disparity: homeless adults over age 74 might be underrepresented among chronically homeless populations that are typically targeted with PSH, existing PSH might not be able to fully accommodate the greater accessibility needs of the oldest adults, or RRH could serve as a bridge to other forms of subsidized housing targeted to older adults. 

The authors also observed racial and ethnic disparities. Older white adults accounted for a little over a third of the older adult population experiencing homelessness but received over half of PSH interventions. All non-white groups were underrepresented among older adults receiving PSH. Older Black adults, for example, accounted for 48.6% of the older adult population experiencing homelessness but just 40.1% of the population receiving PSH, while Hispanics constituted 10.9% of the older adult population experiencing homelessness but just 3.6% of older adults receiving PSH. Older Black adults were the only non-white group to be underrepresented in RRH, where they accounted for 40.7% of older adults receiving the intervention and 48.6% of older adults experiencing homelessness.  

Older Black adults were disproportionately more likely to exit homelessness through means other than the homeless services system. While older Black adults accounted for just under half of the older adult homeless population, they represented 57.6% of homeless older adults who exited by moving in with family, 68.9% of homeless older adults who exited homelessness into police custody, jail, or prison, and 60% of older homeless adults who resorted to solutions outside of the homelessness system. The authors suggest there could be institutionalized barriers preventing older adults of color from accessing homelessness assistance.

The authors conclude that their findings warrant further research into disparities for older adults experiencing homelessness. In particular, the authors highlight a need to better understand what drives disparities in pathways out of homelessness for older adults of color and the oldest adults. The authors also call for HUD to make homelessness data on older adults by race, ethnicity, and gender publicly available to help address inequities in the receipt of homelessness assistance.

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