WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 16 - The homeless are the invisible denizens of America's cities, says Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens. "But, the dirty little secret that has only come to light recently is the fact that the elderly are among the fastest growing populations living on the streets," he reports.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development told Congress last year that there were more than 300,000 homeless Americans 50 years of age or more, 20% more than there were in 2007.
A recognized expert on the issue of the growing number of older individuals who are on the streets is University of Pennsylvania Professor Dennis P. Culhane. He says that in 1990 "the peak age of adults who were homeless was 30" and that today the peak age is 55.
Weber is calling on all candidates for election and re-election in November and those in the private sector to recognize the fact that more seniors are homeless than ever before and to take to heart the needs of "these hapless lost souls. Focus on their plight and let the truth be told, loud and clear. Everyone needs to pitch in if we are to solve this problem, which only grows bigger with each passing day."
Some would blame the spike in homelessness among older Americans on the swiftly aging population. But, Weber says, it has more to do with the rising cost of health care and health insurance, the lagging economy, the impact of such diseases of old age as cancer and Alzheimer's and, perhaps the most damaging cause of all, the lack of affordable housing.
"In fact, talk to any health provider who deals with the homeless and they will tell you that there has been a dramatic shift in recent years in the illnesses from which they suffer. It used to be that the homeless suffered mainly from drug abuse and mental illness. Nowadays they are more likely to have the chronic diseases of old age," Weber notes.
Mel Martinez and Allyson Y. Schwartz are the co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center Senior Health and Housing Task Force. Martinez is a former U.S. Senator from Florida and Schwartz is a former Congresswoman from Pennsylvania. They published an Opinion Article in U.S. News and World Report last month in which they concluded that "preventing and ending homelessness among older adults should become a major national priority in the United States. By setting goals to end homelessness; increasing available low-income senior housing; and by understanding that the challenge requires participation from public and private partners at all levels, we can and will find ways to ensure that all U.S. seniors have the shelter and security that they deserve."
Meanwhile, Margot Kushel, professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, is an expert on the elderly who become homeless. She says that providing them with housing is the key to fixing the problem. "A lot of these people have been healthy their whole lives. But it doesn't take long for their health to plummet once they're homeless. Once someone is housed, depression often lifts, stress fades away, infections heal. It's instant."
Says Weber, "everyone has his own set of priorities, but one thing we all have in common is that we are all growing older. It's one of the hardest things we will all do in this life and so we should have compassion for those who need our help."
The Association of Mature American Citizens [http://www.amac.us] is a vibrant, vital senior advocacy organization that takes its marching orders from its members. We act and speak on their behalf, protecting their interests and offering a practical insight on how to best solve the problems they face today. Live long and make a difference by joining us today at http://amac.us/join-amac.