The Complex Problem of
Long-term Elder Homelessness
My story of The Park Street Angels endeavors to “put a face” on the crisis of elder homelessness and to share real solutions with a broad audience – not only the general public, but with students and professionals working in the various sectors of public health, health care and human services as well as education and communities of faith. In living the story of The Park Street Angels, I’ve learned that, while the challenges faced by an individual living without secure, consistent housing can’t be overstated, perhaps more important is the fact that an elderly man or woman who is homeless faces far greater obstacles, not the least of which includes managing one or more chronic physical or mental illnesses.
"Homeless Bob, Homeless by Fire"
According to Hearth (which is the former Boston Committee to End Elder Homelessness) homeless seniors remains an under-recognized and under-served segment of the homeless population. While in 1990 only 11 percent of adults experiencing homelessness were aged 50 or older, this figure had increased to 32 percent by 2013. The size of the older homeless adult population is projected to almost double over the next decade. The problem is not only tragic, but the health-related implications of an aging homeless population are significant and have cost implications to the health care system. Compared to their younger counterparts and to the general population, homeless adults aged 50 and older have higher rates of medical co-morbidities (that is, they have two or more chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes), functional disability, and geriatric conditions. What’s more, these conditions develop 15-20 years earlier for this population than in their housed counterparts.
As a child Bob Wright suffered abuse and neglect and was abandoned by his mother. He grew up in and out of foster care placements and the Home for Little Wanderers. From childhood on, a good part of his life was spent merely surviving. Throughout his life, he said he’d made some “poor choices,” and as an adult he suffered from heart disease and diabetes, with its complications, as well as chronic homelessness.
- Christina Nordstrom