Home For Good

Getting Serious About Older Adult Homelessness

Recent robust state and federal investments to address homelessness make one thing clear: there is a serious public charge to measurably reduce homelessness. 

Let’s use this investment locally to permanently end homelessness for 15,000 older adults in LA County by 2025. New resources make this more possible than ever, and Home For Good is creating a roadmap to get us there. 

Public Investments

The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced the House America Initiative, which urges cities, counties, and tribes to use their American Rescue Plan funding (including Emergency Housing Vouchers and HOME grants) to purchase more non-congregate buildings and connect more people to permanent housing. 

Earlier this year, the State of California revised its budget to include an additional $12B in homeless spending for the next two years. Some of that money comes from the American Rescue Plan and will help more eligible people access Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), will convert more buildings to shelter and housing, and will use flexible funding to strategically drive progress. 

Why Target Older Adults?

The past five years have made overwhelmingly clear just how important it is to get our older neighbors off the streets and into safe housing before it’s too late. Before the pandemic, policymakers and advocates rarely focused on ending homelessness among older adults. We talked about veterans, families, youth, and ending “chronic homelessness” – but we didn’t explicitly target people 50 and older for shelter and housing. Here’s why we should:

  • For years, we’ve known that systemic racism means the disproportionate representation of Black people experiencing homelessness as adults only increases with age.
  • In 2017, California policy makers got empirical evidence that the medical ages of our homeless older adults can often exceed their biological age by 20 years. 
  • In 2019, we learned that the average age at death was 51 among our homeless L.A. residents compared to 73 in our general population. 
  • In 2020, we saw senior homelessness increase by 20% in the annual Point in Time Count, and we began to see the heavy toll of COVID-19 on our older Black and Latinx unhoused residents. 
  • Today, older unhoused residents account for 72% of deaths among those experiencing homelessness. 

Fortunately, policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels have begun to acknowledge the unique vulnerability of older adult homelessness and have unlocked unprecedented funding to get COVID-vulnerable adults inside. However, when HUD announced the House America Initiative, they went out of their way to signal disappointment that state and local officials have not done enough to set bold goals. 

Los Angeles is an exception. Here, we’ve been working relentlessly in partnership with unhoused residents, providers, funders, policy makers, elected officials, and HUD’s own technical assistance providers to build accurate forecasts, cost estimates, and goals.

How Has L.A. Laid The Foundation For Serious, Measurable Progress?

  1. The County is building strategies focused on older adults

Before the pandemic, L.A. County departments recommended the establishment of an Urgent Housing Initiative focused on older adults experiencing homelessness. Once the pandemic heightened the danger and urgency for older adults, the County commissioned a specific framework for an Older Adult Housing Pilot in L.A. County, which lays out a vision to bring home older adults in the county over the next five years. 

A coalition of aging and homelessness experts shared recommendations to the Board of Supervisors to improve the County’s approach, including better integration between the aging and homelessness systems.

  1. LAHSA is prioritizing the urgent needs of older adults

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) hired a full time Older Adults Coordinator with gerontology experience, and is increasing its capacity to serve this population. They maintain data through the Older Adult Dashboard that provides valuable insight on progress reaching older adults. Most recently, in partnership with HUD, LAHSA built the Homeless Systems Program Models Matrix for L.A. Older Adults to provide clarity to funders around potential support and to help providers understand what they are expected to deliver. 

In response to COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on older adults, LAHSA quickly amended the Coordinated Entry System (CES) to prioritize people at high risk of death or severe illness from COVID-19, including  seniors. As a result, older adults accounted for 43% of the Project RoomKey population despite being less than 30% of the general homeless population. In its COVID-19 Recovery Plan, LAHSA committed to ensuring all these older adults get access to permanent housing and do not return to the streets.

  1. The City of L.A. is expanding interim and permanent housing and is prioritizing seniors 

We’ve seen the City of Los Angeles make deep investments in supportive housing over the last five years through Proposition HHH. As of August 2021, there are 900 units in service and over 6,300 units in the pipeline, and almost 20% of those units are designated for seniors. 

The City also developed a COVID-19 Homelessness Roadmap to create over 6,000 “new interventions.”  People experiencing homelessness age 65 and older are among three target populations for interventions, which include rapid rehousing subsidies, congregate and non-congregate shelter beds, pallet shelters, safe parking, and some permanent housing already in the pipeline.

More recently, several members of the L.A. City Council have called for large-scale progress on housing expansion. One proposal calls for the creation of 25,000 new units by 2025, and the Council unanimously approved the establishment of a Housing Now Fund to provide rental subsidies and supportive services for 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, especially those with complex needs.

  1. The Aging and Homeless sectors in L.A. are improving coordination  

If the aging and homeless systems were well coordinated, older adults would have a robust array of prevention, mitigation, and support services available to them, but these systems are historically fractured. Each system was designed to serve a different population with different needs, and administration and funding create additional challenges. To address these challenges, the L.A. division of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) is working with Shelter Partnership, UWGLA, and LAHSA to design and incentivize stronger integration across the aging and homeless systems in each Service Planning Area (SPA). CSH ultimately wants to create a countywide Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT), modeled after Assembly Bill (AB) 210, for coordination across Los Angeles Aging and Homeless services providers.

  1. Philanthropy is stepping up its investments in older adult homelessness 

For our part, Home For Good (HFG) has been raising funding and is on the verge of publishing a strategic roadmap to help funders and policymakers better understand the crisis. Supported by a multi-year seed grant from Cedars Sinai,the roadmap also illuminates opportunities to pioneer promising approaches, improve coordination across coalitions, scale the most transformative, equitable solutions, and establish an integrated management model to ensure progress, with particular attention to Black older adults. The roadmap will include 20 expert-informed strategies oriented around three key themes:

  • Invest in large-scale advocacy and communications about this once-in-a-lifetime moment
  • Build capacity for community/strategic planning and coordination
  • Pilot, evaluate, and scale programs to prevent and end older adult homelessness

Keep an eye out for HFG’s Older Adult Strategy, coming soon. In the meantime, we are working with the Conrad N. Hilton foundation and other funders to create flexible funding that helps COVID-vulnerable older adults exit shelters in South and East LA and move into accessible permanent housing.  As more funders step up to tackle these opportunities, we will keep the community updated to ensure our investments are aligned to maximize impact. 

What’s Next?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented state and federal resources to the fight to keep people housed, bring older adults safely inside, and get people connected to one-time Emergency Housing Vouchers. But this level of investment is more of a late down-payment than a game-changing windfall. For years, the state and federal government have been ignoring the scale of the housing crisis, underfunding entitlements, and targeting older adult homelessness through the lens of “chronic homelessness.” The results are obvious: we have not ended chronic homelessness and we continue to see alarming rates of older adult homelessness. 

If the state and federal government want a serious public pledge to measurably reduce homelessness, then L.A.’s elected officials should respond with a unified focus on ending older adult homelessness, and we should demand that our state and federal partners fully fund the social safety net that we know protects them against housing instability. 

Philanthropy stands ready to do our part, and our roadmap for strategic partnership is imminent. 

References

Brown, R.T., Hemati, K., Riley, E.D., et al. Geriatric conditions in a population-based sample of older homeless adults. (2017). Gerontologist, 57(4), 757-766. doi:10.1093/geront/gnw011. (n/u)

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Center for Health Impact Evaluation, Recent Trends In Mortality Rates and Causes of Death Among People Experiencing Homelessness in Los Angeles County, October 2019

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count 2020, June 12, 2020. 

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Older Adult Dashboard, Last Updated September 21, 2021. 

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, United Way of Greater LA, Abt Associates, Los Angeles Older Adults System Modeling, 2021

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, United Way of Greater LA, Abt Associates, Los Angeles Older Adults System Modeling Project Summary, 2021

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, LAHSA COVID-19 Recovery Plan Report, June 23, 2020. 

Capps, Kriston, The Biden Administration Pushes Cities to Get Serious About Homelessness, Bloomberg City Lab, September 20, 2021. 

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Biden-Harris Administration Launches House America Initiative to Address Homelessness Crisis, September 20, 2021.

Culhane, D., Treglia, D., Byrne, T., Metraux, S., Kuhn, R., Doran, K., Johns, E., & Schretzman, M. (n.d.). The Emerging Crisis of Aged Homelessness: Could Housing Solutions Be Funded by Avoidance of Excess Shelter, Hospital, and Nursing Home Costs?

Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, “Governor Newsom Signs Historic Housing and Homelessness Funding Package as Part of $100 Billion California Comeback Plan,” July 19, 2021. 

County of Los Angeles, Chief Executive Office. (2020) Creating a Comprehensive Plan and Recommendations to Address the Needs of Homeless Older Adults in Los Angeles County.

Oreskes, B. (2020). “Under pressure, L.A. agrees to provide 6,000 new beds to clear homeless camps under freeways,” L.A. Times.

Councilmember Kevin de Leon, A Way Home LA.

Councilmember Mark Ridley Thomas, Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ Motion to Establish the “Housing Now” Initiative Unanimously Approved by the LA City Council, September 21, 2021. 

Dennis Culhane, Andy Perry, Max Stevens, Dan Treglia, Randall Kuhn, “A Roadmap for Phased Implementation of an Older Adult Housing Pilot in Los Angeles County, September 21, 2020.