How Inflation Puts Seniors Disproportionately At-Risk for Homelessness

senior woman homeless in NYC

Seniors are already predisposed to poverty for many reasons. Financial anxiety has not always been rampant among seniors. But now that it is, more seniors are finding themselves homeless. Fixed incomes are unforgiving—they don’t come with built-in provisions for things like steep and sudden inflation or economic downturn.

The recent rise in inflation is especially troubling for seniors. While many members of younger generations are scrambling to find side hustles or get an extra job to help counterbalance the sharply rising costs of food and housing, seniors rarely have such flexibility. Evictions among seniors are rising, and so are nursing home closures. Without the flexibility to somehow make more money or find housing that supports their needs, many seniors affected by these events become homeless.

Roughly six million older adults are struggling financially right now. The number of adults aged 65 and older living under the poverty line rose dramatically during the pandemic. It jumped from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021.

Many challenges disproportionately affect seniors, such as:

  • High costs of health insurance
  • Expensive prescription drugs
  • Predatory landlords
  • Shifting to a single income after the death of a spouse

There are also fewer protections for seniors from financial woes than there were for previous generations. Pensions are rarer than ever, and wage stagnation has made employees less able to save over time. More people are using up all their paychecks on living expenses, and fewer can put money into 401ks or other retirement plans.

As a result, people are also working much later in life than their counterparts of previous generations. When people work into their sixties, seventies, and even eighties, their health suffers. This means they’ll need to pay even more for healthcare, in addition to other expenses that already disproportionately affect seniors.

It’s a cycle that continues until that person dies. Life expectancies are shortening, and factors like poverty play a significant role.

How Does Senior Poverty Lead to Homelessness?

When resources shrink enough, people have little money left for their mortgage or rent. Then when that goes up, too, people have no choice but to move out and find somewhere less expensive to live. Due to a national shortage of affordable housing, frequently, there are no cheaper options.

In the case of eviction, there’s no time to look for somewhere else. Landlords and banks have no more compassion for seniors than they do for anyone else. And, when it’s time to evict, there’s not much regard for where residents will go afterward.

Younger people may have family members to rely on after falling on hard times and could perhaps live with their parents or a sibling while getting back on their feet. Unfortunately, for many seniors, their parents have likely passed, and their siblings may have, too. The remaining family members may be in no better a position to support them or might not be willing or able due to having a family of their own to support.

Also, seniors’ financial burdens are less likely to be temporary. The nature of retirement is that you have a set amount of money left for the rest of your life, and you hope it’s adequate. If it turns out that it isn’t, you simply don’t have many options.

The result can be homelessness, and homelessness is particularly dangerous for seniors. Harsh temperatures, exposure to illness and environmental hazards, and pre-existing health conditions like diabetes make homelessness all but a death sentence.

What Can We Do to Help Seniors?

Many programs and resources for poor people are just as available for seniors, including single-person households, as for anyone else. For example, programs like food stamps and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program provide seniors money for food, often a couple of hundred dollars per month. However, these programs need to be more utilized.

Some of this lack of utilization is due to the need for more information and understanding. If someone has never been in a tight financial situation before, these ideas may not come to mind, even if they’re aware of their existence. Learning exactly what it means to receive food stamps and how to apply for them is a service commonly provided by social workers, who are not available to everyone. This puts greater responsibility on us to reach out and offer resources and help to our loved ones struggling, if possible.

Another barrier to services is the negative stigma around asking for help. Again, if someone has not previously been desperate, they may not have needed to ask for help before. They may also have held a negative view toward people who used social services. These obstacles can be enough to keep someone from accepting a resource, no matter how desperate they are.

Now more than ever, we need to de-stigmatize asking for help. Nearly all of us have experienced firsthand the effects of inflation. That should allow us to be more compassionate.

We should also show willingness and patience in our efforts to reach seniors. There are sometimes significant barriers that exist in terms of accessing services, such as technology. Additional barriers like memory difficulties or physical disabilities can play a role, too. We need to be mindful of these and help however we can.

Make Sure You’re Asking the Right Questions

None of these points will help if you don’t know that your loved one, neighbor, friend, co-worker, etc., is struggling. You can’t always ask directly if someone is having financial hardship. However, there are questions you can ask that prompt further conversation and allow others to open up if they want to. Even simple questions like “How are you doing?” can have this effect if you are sincere enough.

And if you see someone whom you know, beyond a doubt, is struggling, don’t be afraid to help directly. De-stigmatization starts with being unafraid to look at a problem closely and do the work it takes.


Victoria VanTol

Victoria VanTol

  

Victoria VanTol holds a master's degree in social work. She is a therapist and freelance writer specializing in topics related to social justice and mental health.

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