National data about the prevalence of homelessness among older adults, including by race, gender, and other demographic characteristics, are needed to sound the alarm and galvanize a national response to ending older adult homelessness. Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) takes a Point-in-Time (PIT) Count to gauge how many people are experiencing homelessness on a single night and shares this information with the U.S. Congress. The Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) is used to not only track progress on preventing and ending homelessness, but it is also used to inform federal, state, and local policies around homelessness.
Why Collecting and Reporting Data on Older Adults Matters
The AHAR is comprised of two parts. Part 1 provides information on the number and demographics of individuals experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness. Part 2 provides information on specific populations’ experiences of homelessness. Because of the pandemic, recent AHARs have reported only on people experiencing sheltered homelessness.
This means we have not received overall data on the scope of unsheltered homelessness since 2020. Additionally, information reported about older adults’ homelessness is typically hidden within aggregate information. While HUD suggests that Continuums of Care (CoCs) use date of birth in their PIT surveys to capture age, the AHAR Part 1 reports data in three age categories: under age 18, 18 – 24, and over 24.
Research tells us that older adults’ experience of homelessness is different from their younger counterparts in various ways, such as their demographics, pathways into homelessness and healthcare needs. These differences point to a need to gain more detailed information to further understand the prevalence of – and garner a profile of – homelessness among older adults. Additionally, the continuing economic fallout from the pandemic, rising costs of rent, groceries, along with an aging society, tells us that older adults’ experience of homelessness and their unique needs must be included within a national strategy to prevent and end homelessness. For example, every day in the U.S., 10,000 people turn 65, and the number of older adults will more than double over the next several decades and represent over 20 percent of the population by 2050. As the population ages, and we consider current economic factors, even more older adults are moving into poverty and homelessness.
Data collected on older adults experiencing homelessness can help individual service providers and CoCs:
- track and understand trends;
- raise awareness and help advocate for additional resources;
- create and implement programs and services geared towards older adults; and
- allocate resources effectively.
What Can CoCs Do to Help Improve the Count?
Many communities understand the need to count, describe, and understand the individuals who are experiencing homelessness in their communities. No community can end homelessness without comprehensive data – some might even say real-time, person-specific data like that captured in the by-name system. HUD relies on local communities to provide an accurate, complete count. So, collecting good baseline data about older adults experiencing homelessness is essential to designing effective responses and using it as a basis for comparison in future years.
In the meantime, here’s what communities can do to best capture data on older adult homelessness in their communities:
- Capture age by using date of birth in PIT surveys.
- Utilize the age categories of the Annual Performance Report so that there is consistency among CoCs.
- Assess the disproportionality and racial disparity by filtering by age. (See the Alliance’s Racial Equity Toolkit).
- Encourage HUD to expand the “over 24” age category in the AHAR and to develop a supplement on older adults. Stakeholders interested in providing feedback or requesting changes to the HMIS Data Standards can provide feedback by submitting a question to the HUD Exchange Ask A Question (AAQ) portal until December 31, 2022. (Be sure to select “HMIS” in Step 2.)
- Participate in HUD’s 2023 HIC and PIT Data Collection Notice and Upcoming PIT Count Office Hours. These sessions will focus on conducting the 2023 PIT Count and will be held on Dec. 7 and Jan. 11. (See PIT Count Office Hours page for details.)