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Understanding A Growing Older Adult Homeless Population

Homelessness among older adults continues to increase. Knowing how many older adults are experiencing homelessness on a national level is a critical first step in helping them. To improve the national response to homelessness among older adults, policymakers need better data on the magnitude of the issue.

Why Is It Important to Count?

It is difficult to determine just how many older adults are currently homeless, on a national scale. Not knowing the true size of the population makes it hard to measure progress in preventing and ending homelessness. Clearer data collection and reporting on older adults would not only help to foster data-driven policy, but also help providers to tailor services to their distinct needs. This would provide a clearer picture of not only the number of older adults experiencing homelessness, but also their characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, disabilities, mental health issues. As older adult homelessness rises, the need for an accurate picture of who experiences homelessness will be important to ensure that providers are equipped with the resources to serve this population on a national scale.

Gathering Data from Multiple Sources: PIT, LSA and HIC

Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) submits a report to Congress that provides nationwide estimates of homelessness, including information about the demographic characteristics of individuals experiencing homelessness, service use patterns, and the capacity to house individuals experiencing homelessness.

The Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) is based on:

  1. Point-in-Time (PIT) Count data of individuals experiencing homelessness on one night in January;
  1. Longitudinal System Analysis (LSA) report submitted annually by Continuums of Care (CoCs), which provides information about individuals experiencing homelessness during a 12-month period and their use of services; and
  1. Housing Inventory Count (HIC) data about the inventory of shelter and housing available in a community.
HUD has released the AHAR each year since 2007 to give both national and local level information needed to track progress toward ending homelessness in the United States and the effectiveness of HUD’s programs and policies in achieving its goals. Part 1 of the AHAR is based on Point-in-Time Count data, while Part 2 is based on information from the LSA and HIC. While the AHAR is useful in determining trends and providing an overall assessment of homelessness nationwide, a more granular view of this data would be helpful to specifically understand how homelessness impacts older adults. Part of the difficulty of providing an accurate count regarding the rate and characteristics of older adults experiencing homelessness is the Point-in-Time Count age category is limited to three age ranges: under 18, 18-24, and over 24. Given the latter age range accounts for young adults as well as older adults, it is difficult to count the rate of homelessness among older adults. Additionally, while the age range of the LSA information includes expanded age ranges (e.g., 55-64, 65+), HUD only publishes summary data which does not allow for intersectional analysis. Modifications to the current data collection process would help improve this understanding.

What Would Help to Better Understand Older Adult Homelessness?

The current data collection and reporting limits the understanding of the scope of homelessness among older adults and the ability to identify any service gaps, racial and ethnic disparities, etc. Therefore, recommendations include:
Expand the HUD age range in Point-in-Time Counts from the “Over 24” category, to determine data on the number of older adults and analyze characteristics. It would be helpful to align the age range with the age range used in the Annual Performance Report (APR).
Publish raw data and/or cohort data on various other demographics within older adult homelessness such as race, ethnicity, disability, and service utilization and outcomes.
Include a section in the AHAR and APR specifically on older adults.
Request the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (Forum), whose goal is to improve aging-related data, focus its efforts on homelessness among older adults. The Forum has played a key role by critically evaluating existing data resources and limitations, stimulating new database development, encouraging cooperation and data sharing among Federal agencies, and preparing collaborative statistical reports.
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