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Housing and Aging: Senior Homelessness is an Emerging Issue

homeless boy holding a cardboard house

If you are a regular Agewise King County reader, you may recall the article on affordable housing from May 2016. That same month, a new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Healthy Aging Begins at Home, was released. It contains an excellent summary of information and compilation of data, nicely visualized in an infographic. The senior housing discussion has a new sense of urgency as researchers, service providers, and advocates begin to realize that senior homelessness is on the rise.

“Homelessness has traditionally been viewed as a problem affecting younger adults more severely than older adults,” write the report’s authors. “Yet, with the dramatic increase in the number of seniors, many of whom will be economically vulnerable, it is, unfortunately, expected that older adults will assume a larger share of the nation’s homeless population.”

The Seattle Mayor’s Council on African American Elders has observed a “continuous downward spiraling of homeless African American elders … in Seattle’s streets.”

United Way of King County recently identified senior homelessness as an emerging challenge for the homeless services system countywide. In fact, nearly a third of the clients in homeless shelters funded by United Way are over 55.

Even though homelessness has not been a prominent focus of the aging services network, there are a few initiatives underway to address the challenge. For example, the renewal of King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) Levy will provide resources for housing and homeless services and also will fund initiatives focusing on behavioral health services for adults over 50 and older adult crisis intervention. Additionally, King County is considering a renewal of the Veterans and Human Services Levy that may provide an additional opportunity to focus attention on the needs of this population. To provide feedback on the Levy, click here.

For their part, United Way of King County is making a $300,000 investment in services for vulnerable older adults, including services targeting people experiencing homelessness.

To continue to raise awareness of the urgent need for senior housing, including housing for extremely low income and homeless seniors, Aging and Disability Services is cosponsoring a Housing and Aging forum on Thursday, November 17, 2016 at the NewHolly Gathering Hall in southeast Seattle. Part of the Housing Development Consortium’s “Housing and…” series, the forum will address a wide array of topics and will inform an update to the Quiet Crisis senior housing report. The forum and report update will assess current strategies and seek to address emerging challenges, including the specter of increased senior homelessness. For more information and to register for the forum, visit the Housing Development Consortium registration webpage.

Housing and Aging Forum

While our understanding of this issue is still emerging, one thing seems clear—to address senior homelessness, we have to work together. As the co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Senior Health and Housing Taskforce stated in a recent opinion editorial, “preventing and ending homelessness among older adults must become a major national priority…. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach, harnessing the resources and energy of all sectors of society; federal and local governments as well as the private sector and nonprofit communities.”

In Seattle and King County, housing providers, services agencies and funders are doing their part to make sure that the experience of homelessness for older adults is rare, brief, and one-time.

Contributor Jon Morrison Winters is the lead planner on transportation and housing issues for Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. He can be reached at at or 206-684-0654.