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Housing and Homelessness

Longer Lives And Out-Of-Pocket Expenses Drive The Fastest Growing Unhoused Population In LA

Fifteen dollar bills are placed next to each other in two rows. There is a "+" sign followed by an extra dollar bill and four pennies to the second row.
Experts say as people reach older ages in life, financial or medical emergencies that involves a lot of out of pocket costs can push people who are struggling to make ends meet to slip into homelessness.
(Collage by Alborz Kamalizad / LAist, Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)
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Adults over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing population of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, according to a 2022 report from the California Budget and Policy Center.

Sara Kimberlin, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center, said it's a growing phenomenon in California.

“It's really quite shocking in many ways that almost half of individuals in adult households are aged 50 and over,” Kimberlin said. “It has a lot of implications for what we need to do collectively to make sure we can meet their needs so they can exit homelessness as quickly as possible.”

A 2020 count of unhoused people in L.A. found there were roughly 16,000 people over the age of 55 who were experiencing homelessness. Kimberlin said older adult homelessness has increased about 20% from 2017 to 2020.

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Factors driving it include, in part, adults in California are living longer and experiencing financial or medical emergencies that involve a lot of out-of-pocket costs that can cause people struggling to make ends meet to slip into homelessness.

One of those older adults who was experiencing homelessness is Lisa Chilton, a 63-year-old woman who couch surfed for five years. She fell into homelessness after suffering injuries at work. Her fixed income wasn’t enough to keep up with rising housing costs in L.A. Kimberlin said older adults also reflect who experience homelessness more broadly, pointing to the stark racial disparities for Black Californians like Chilton.

“Experiencing homelessness is just a traumatic experience for anyone; and, then, if you're an older adult experiencing homelessness, they are more likely to have underlying health conditions and disabilities,” Kimberlin said, adding that unhoused adults also age prematurely and develop similar rates of geriatric conditions as housed adults who are 20 years older.

Solutions For Older Adults

Kimberlin said helping older adults experiencing homelessness get connected to health coverage programs they’re eligible for along with community-based organizations is key.

“For an older adult who has been in stable housing their whole lives and then hit with a crisis and falls into homelessness, it can be challenging for them to know where to go or access help,” Kimberlin said.

Kim McCoy Wade, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s senior advisor on aging, disability and Alzheimer’s, said California is on track to have more people over 60 than under 18 experience homelessness for the first time in just a few short years.

For an older adult who has been in stable housing their whole lives and then hit with a crisis and falls into homelessness, it can be challenging for them to know where to go or access help.
— Sara Kimberlin, senior policy analyst, California Budget and Policy Center

Older adults are typically experiencing homelessness for the first time and many aren’t digitally savvy. That makes getting them connected to help harder.

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Wade said the government is figuring out what type of resource is right for individuals who experience homelessness differently, while trying to make sure they increase public awareness. Wade said the state is working to build a network across the state that unites cities and counties to work together.

“We have a lot of very diverse community based organizations,” Wade said. “But the downside of that is, it's confusing. The governor has really made that public point of contact a priority.”