November 2023 news

Local insights on a national trend

Boomers On the Rise?

50 percent of the local chronic homeless population is over 55

By Lynn Geiger


Homelessness doesn’t care if you are 18, 36 or 64. But what to make of a recent national headline about more and more baby boomers finding themselves without a place to live?


The Wall Street Journal article - “Why More Baby Boomers Are Sliding Into Homelessness” - discussed the nationwide trend of individuals now aged 59 to 77 being the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. From fixed incomes that are no match for high housing costs to catastrophic life events, these and other factors are creating a swell in homelessness among this age demographic, according to the article. 


Are we seeing the same trend in our local homeless community? The short answer is no … but there’s more to the story.


As of September 2023, there are 267 actively homeless individuals across the five-county region, according to the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness. While that number has bounced around over the years, data show a steady increase over the last year. The percentage of that population that is over 55 years of age, however, has remained relatively consistent, according to Ashley Halladay-Schmandt, coalition director. The five-year trend is outlined below:

Text Box: Percent of the homeless population over 55 years old:2023 – 18%2022 – 17%2021 – 19%2020 – 19%2019 – 19%2018 – 21%Source: Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness 

While these numbers don’t show anything significant with regard to more baby boomers ending up homelessness across the region, said Halladay-Schmandt, there is still something noteworthy. “The narrative here is the homeless population is aging and it means people are staying in homelessness for a longer period of time. That is why we’re in year one of a five-year initiative to end chronic homelessness. Half of the chronic homeless population here (70 people) is over 55.”


Chronic homeless is defined as people experiencing homelessness for a year or longer and living with a diagnosed disability. That disability may be physical, it may be mental, and it includes substance use disorders. 


During the first month of Safe Harbor’s 2023-24 season, the average age of guests was 45.5 years old, with 22 individuals aged 56-65 and seven over 65 years old. 


One of the complications of an older homeless population is the need for a higher level of intervention and care as health is often far worse than what would be typical of someone in their 50s or 60s – putting further strain on already strained resources and taking away from efforts focused on housing other segments of the population.


“We don’t have enough skilled care facilities, adult foster care facilities or deeply affordable assisted living to help these individuals,” said Halladay-Schmandt said. As a result, shelters such as Safe Harbor and the Goodwill Inn are at risk of becoming nursing homes without the medical staff. “If we did have enough of that type of housing, the number of older, chronically homeless people would shrink,” she said.


Lynn Geiger is a Safe Harbor facility manager and a journalist who has written for the Ticker and Traverse City Business News.