Research suggests that being older and homeless is associated with unique characteristics and potential barriers to improved living conditions. Additional research is needed to better understand the vulnerabilities associated with this population. The purpose of this study was to identify characteristics related to aging and homelessness. It was hypothesized that older adults would exhibit more vulnerability compared to other age groups related to health, social support proximity, occupational perceptions, and recent living conditions prior to seeking assistance at an emergency shelter. It was also hypothesized that these age-related characteristics would predict the amount of time that individuals resided in the emergency shelter.
A cross-sectional sample of young, middle-aged, and older homeless adults seeking shelter at two emergency homeless shelters was utilized for this study. Data included information obtained during a structured interview after participants arrived at the shelter and the number of days that were spent at the shelter.
Older adults were more likely to exhibit several characteristics (i.e., poorer health, being further from social support, longer durations of homelessness, lack of employment area, prior residence types, and mental health treatment) potentially contributing to and/or recovering from homelessness. Duration of homelessness, reports of having no career area, and age were predictive of the amount of time spent at the shelter.
The various characteristics that differentiate older homeless populations (e.g., health, social support, homelessness duration, and employment) could create potential barriers to overcoming homelessness that should be considered when serving this population.