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The Age Structure of Contemporary Homelessness: Evidence and Implications for Public Policy


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Amidst concern about the implications of an aging U.S. population, recent evidence suggests that there is a unique aging trend among the homeless population. Building on this, we use data from New York City and from the last three decennial Census enumerations to assess how the age composition of the homeless population—both single adults and adults in families—has changed over time.

Findings show diverging trends in aging patterns for single adults and adults in families over the past 20 years. Among single adults, the bulk of the sheltered population is comprised of persons born during the latter part of the baby boom era whose high risk for homelessness has continued as they have aged. Specifically, the age group in this population facing the highest risk for homelessness was 34–36 (born 1954–1956) in 1990; 37–42 (born 1958–1963) in 2000; and 49–51 (born 1959–1961) in 2010. In contrast, among adults in sheltered families, there is no indication of any progressive aging of the family household heads. The modal age across the study period remains at 21–23 years of age.

This report considers implications for the health care and social welfare systems, and policy responses to homelessness.

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We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation


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