We Can Expect to See a Surge in Homeless Deaths if We Don’t Act Now

Written by Scott Keyes

Hundreds of thousands of homeless people could die over the next decade as the homeless population in the United States grows older but continues to lack access to proper housing, food, or medical care.

As researchers from the University of Pennsylvania pointed out in a recent study, the homeless demographic problem is stark. Modern homelessness in American society largely began in the early 1980s due to a confluence of factors, including double-dip recessions, the crack epidemic, and the closing of psychiatric institutions. The result was a boom in the number of individuals without shelter, an acute problem begun only 30 years ago that has continued to this day.

That’s because it’s incredibly difficult to pull oneself out of the cycle of homelessness. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) learned this fact all too well during the holidays when he spent a day shadowing a homeless man to learn more about the challenges he faced. As Murphy tweeted at the time, “it’s almost impossible to 1) find a job while living in a shelter, 2) get out of the shelter w/o a job.” Add on top of that the lack of affordable housing and recurring health or addiction problems and it’s not difficult to see why so many people who became homeless in the 1980s still find themselves without shelter today.

Indeed, University of Pennsylvania professor Dennis Culhane showed in a study last year that the homeless population in the United States keeps getting older and older. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted, in 1990, the median age of a single homeless adult was 34; 20 years later, the median age was 53. In other words, fewer individuals in later generations have found themselves on the streets, but older generations are also finding it more difficult to get off them.

The problem is becoming increasingly dire, the Chronicle pointed out, because the average life expectancy for a homeless person is 64. (The average life expectancy in the United States as a whole is currently 79-years-old.) In a decade, therefore, the United States is facing a massive surge in the number of homeless people expected to die.

Currently, there are approximately 400,000 homeless people in the United States who were born before 1964. Within 15 years, Culhane estimated, nearly every one of them will be dead.

That is, unless cities and communities undertake a concerted effort to get their homeless residents into housing. A few cities are making remarkable progress on this front, including Phoenix and Salt Lake City, which both recently succeeded in ending chronic homelessness among veterans by providing them housing first. It’s not only more humane to provide housing and care for our homeless population, particularly those who are aging; it’s also cheaper. With more than 600,000 homeless people in the United States who aren’t getting any younger, the problem is as great as it is urgent.

This post was originally published on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Linda Barnett
Linda Barnett3 years ago

Homelessness is a worldwide problem and has to be a priority in all countries. Nobody should be homeless in this day and age, and if this problem is not handled in a sensitive and positive way now, a great many people will end up dead.

This appalling situation is one that cannot be ignored, because it is not going to go away. All governments worldwide need to act NOW. None of us can imagine the heartache and despair that many must feel not having a home or a purpose in life. Truly, this is a very sad state of affairs and one that we all must act upon and do something to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Tanya Selth
Tanya Selth3 years ago

I find it crazy that this, something one would expect to see in 3rd world countries, goes on to this degree in a place like America. Im so glad I dont live there. The sick and the old should be being looked after.

Helen Krummenacker

Let's talk about the reasons again.

How about the housing price boom and the foreclosures later? Whole families go homeless. College students can't afford to rent after graduating and not all have parents who can take them in. There are people with jobs, who have to sleep in their cars in Silicon Valley. Homelessness is so widespread and worrisome, let's not call it the problem of what many mainstream Americans would dismiss as crazies and druggies. It is a direct consequence of wages not keeping up with the cost of living, the superrich screwing over America, etc.

I mean, the plight of the mentally ill, chronically ill (it's hard to find work when you are sick all the time), and yes, addicts IS important and we should find solutions that help them as well. But many people are only a few paychecks away if not homeless and working,a nd we need to talk about how that shows the system is broken.

Alicia N.
Alicia N3 years ago

sadly noted

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H3 years ago

The worst thing I heard of was of ex-soldiers, back from Iraq or Afghanistan, who are not only suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder but are homeless as well! One of its own is terrible, but both together...!!! Talk about a death sentence!!! Can't our society care for people better than that!

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H3 years ago

A few years ago I had a load of spare blankets, but I was told about the particularly bad homeless problem in a big city. I took my blankets to the shelter, and I remember the young woman, homeless through no fault of her won, who hugged me! .It made me feel fortunate, just as the food in my fridge makes me feel fortunate.

When I first encountered homelessness, it was in the Third World. It's utterly shocking that it's spread to the developed world, condemning people to shorter lives!

Kerrie G.
Kerrie G3 years ago

Shared on Pinterest. :(

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W3 years ago


Karen Chestney
Karen Chestney3 years ago

600,000 is probably an underestimate.....and ...now that the Repubs. have seen fit to Not extend UI.1.4 million are "At Risk"! (add in the extreme cuts to SNAP). Too many Rich politicians with no concept of the reality of life in the U.S....They don't really "Work" but they do get a pay check(and benefits)(for doing next to nothing but "fund-raise"). When did Conservative become synonymous with inhumanity, insanity and heartlessness.

Fred h
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you ThinkProgress, for Sharing this!