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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

The Homeless Population Is Getting Older, Which Requires A New Dimension Of Care


Many agencies are rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach to solving homelessness. The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has set a goal to cut the Dallas area population of chronic, veteran and elderly homeless in half by next summer.

Dennis Culhane from the University of Pennsylvania specializes in the modern homelessness crisis, and explains why securing housing is uniquely challenging for seniors.

Interview Highlights: Dennis Culhane…

…on why facing elderly homelessness is so challenging: “Older adults obviously have a lot of needs, many of them having to do with the activities of daily living, and being mobile and getting around, which are compromised by their aging. But it’s important to note that aging in the homeless population is accelerated. They have a life expectancy of only about 65 years, so what we’re seeing today emerging on the streets is a group with lots of functional limitations, lots of health problems but they’re between between 55 and 65. They only look like they’re in their 60s and 70s health-wise.”

…on how agencies work to prevent elderly homelessness: “It starts with having some good feelers out into the community, letting people know that if they’re in distress they can come in and get some advice. Housing advice is relatively cheap, but it’s really important for people who don’t necessarily understand all the different components of what could go wrong or what is going wrong. In addition, we realize that relatively small amounts of money can help people stave off a serious problem. So having some kind of emergency cash assistance program that can help with pressing utility bills or restoring utilities that have been shut off, that kind of assistance is actually quite crucial in helping people to fend off losing their housing.”

…on why "first come, first served" doesn’t always work: “There’s a cadre of folks who experience long-term homelessness and who are out there for quite significant periods of time and it’s not really easy to prioritize one over the other. There’s just a significant backlog of people who need assistance. And then there’s all of these people who come in for relatively brief periods of time, but who are constantly cycling in and out and they need a different intervention so it’s important that we actually think that we have two different populations, and we need a different intervention for each.”

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.