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Lending a Hand Across Generations

Ethan Pham


As we traverse a bustling city or stroll through a tranquil neighborhood, many of us have come across an individual experiencing homelessness. But, have you considered the tribulations elderly homeless individuals confront? These vulnerable people generally go unnoticed in our society, yet with the number of aging Americans experiencing homelessness steadily rising, it is important to discern the causes and find ways to deter this trend.

Homelessness is rampant throughout the United States, affecting nearly half a million people according to The Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2022 report. Members of this group are typically of an average age of 46. As our general populace progressively ages, more elderly citizens are now finding themselves losing their homes. Regrettably, these numbers are expected to increase even further throughout future years. Elderly persons dealing with homelessness face numerous difficulties when attempting to rebuild their lives such as health problems, social alienation, and exploitation. They also tend to experience difficulty obtaining healthcare provisions and lack mobility assistance benefits. There are steps we can all take to alleviate the lives of our elderly community members who may be grappling with this issue.


There are factors that might expose older Americans to the danger of losing their homes. By 2022, about 80% of homeless people had reported enduring significant traumatic experiences that left them with lasting effects, such as PTSD or other mental illnesses (“Homelessness Resources: Trauma", 2022). According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, an estimated 20% of male individuals suffering from homelessness were veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This fact highlights the critical necessity for accessible supportive resources dedicated especially to those who have survived trauma or served in any military conflict. Unfortunately, most of these resources are completely inaccessible to homeless veterans which exacerbates their existing conditions post deployment.


Another challenge experienced by our elders is the issue of extremely high living costs that make it almost impossible for anyone to afford rent, thereby forcing some people onto the streets. A study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that the cost of living has significantly increased over many years in the United States, outpacing wage growth for many Americans. Housing costs especially have escalated drastically within a variety of cities and urban zones, essentially making it very challenging to find affordable housing options. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition discovered that no state had rental properties reasonably priced enough for minimum-wage workers’ fundamental necessities such as one-bedroom apartments on a fair market rent basis. Furthermore, there is an apparent shortage of rental houses, with the U.S. having a shortage of 7.3 million rental homes affordable and available to renters with extremely low incomes. Fortunately, there are resources available to Iowa citizens that can help in this national crisis, and we can help support those organizations.


It’s not at all impossible to face this evident issue; in fact, there are multiple ways to do so. Supporting local homeless shelters and organizations is one effective way to make a difference. By researching and identifying reputable organizations in your community, you can contribute through volunteering your time, donating goods or money, or even organizing fundraising events. Even small contributions can have a significant impact on providing essential resources and support to those experiencing homelessness. An organization working to help in Cedar Rapids, IA Willis Dady (https://www.willisdady.org/). Learn more about how you can help individuals experiencing homelessness and the programs they offer here, on their website.


Education is another powerful tool in combating homelessness. By educating yourself and others about the root causes and challenges of homelessness in your area, you can help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding this issue. Sharing your knowledge with friends, family, and colleagues promotes empathy and understanding, fostering a more compassionate community that is willing to address the underlying causes of homelessness.


Finally, advocacy for affordable housing is crucial in addressing homelessness at its core. Engaging with local government representatives and advocating for policies that prioritize affordable housing initiatives can make a significant impact. Supporting organizations dedicated to creating more affordable housing options and raising awareness about the importance of stable housing for everyone is an important step in addressing homelessness and ensuring that individuals have access to safe and affordable places to live. Organizations such as Willis Dady Homeless Services work to ensure care for our elders experiencing homelessness and appreciate your interest and help. The Linn County’s Affordable Housing Resource website provides an overview of many housing services (https://www.linncountyiowa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/13976/Affordable-Housing-PDF).


In conclusion, homelessness is a pressing concern that requires our attention and action. As the number of aged individuals losing their homes continues to rise, it is crucial to understand the challenges they face and find effective ways to combat this trend. While homelessness does not affect everyone, it is imperative for all of us to pitch in.


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