This is a report of a 2-year collaborative study of homeless people aged 50 to 64 in Chicago between Loyola University Center for Urban Research and Learning and the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness. This study had three goals: To obtain a demographic profile of people who are homeless in Chicago and are between the ages of 50 and 64; to understand how the various systems designed to serve this population do and do not meet their needs; and to begin to suggest a range of policy and programmatic responses to meet the needs of this population. Information for this research was gathered from a variety of sources: archival survey data from the 2001 Illinois Regional Roundtable study, homeless agencies administrative data; focus groups with individuals who were homeless; life histories of homeless individuals; and interviews with providers. The broad range of data, both quantitative and qualitative, and from differing perspectives allowed the researchers to explore the complexity of experiences facing older homeless individuals.
One of the most surprising findings from the study is that a majority of people aged 50-64 in the Roundtable study became homeless for the first time in middle age. The median age for first homelessness was 47. A second key finding is that the number of people who are homeless in Chicago between the ages of 50 and 65 increased between 2001 and 2006. A broad range of homeless service agencies saw, in total, a 26% increase in the older individuals they were serving. The study found that a sizable portion (possibly 40%) of this population have the will, ability, and work history to become employed, but are hampered from obtaining employment. There are three likely reasons for this: 1) a mismatch of their skills to the job market; 2) the decrease of jobs paying a living wage and 3) ageism in the employment market. Conversely, the employment prospects for the remaining 60% of individuals are very limited. We found that many have one or more factors, such as chronic illness, that limit their ability to hold employment. Finally, safety net social welfare programs fail this population. The meager safety net programs in place for single adults such as Earnfare target individuals younger than 48, and most programs for seniors cannot be accessed until 62 (housing) and 65 (SSI)
Center for Urban Research and Learning; George, Christine; Krogh, Marilyn; Watson, Dennis; and Wittner, Judith, "Homeless over 50: The Graying of Chicago's Homeless Population" (2008). Center for Urban Research and Learning: Publications and Other Works. 21.
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