LEWISTON — The fastest growing age group of homeless in this country is often overlooked. Older adults, those age 65 and older, represent the fastest growing group of homeless, and by 2030 their numbers are expected to triple, according to Dr. Margot Kushel, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations and UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.

In an article published in 2020 by Generations Journal, Kushel points out that among single homeless adults, approximately half are 50 and older, and almost half first became homeless after age 50.

Professor Lenard Kaye is director of the University of Maine Center on Aging. Submitted photo

Professor Lenard Kaye, director of the University of Maine Center on Aging, does not believe there is enough awareness of the aging population in Maine and he fears older Mainers experiencing homelessness may be overlooked. “The older homeless are often less likely to be seen and heard from,” Kaye writes in an email response to questions. “They are more likely to keep their issues private, not ask for or accept help, and generally remain out of eyesight of the public.”

Kaye says some struggle with money, some with alcohol and substance abuse, or the consequences of mental illness. He says their stoic, stiff upper lip mentality is worrisome and does not serve them well when help might be otherwise available. He points out that Maine remains the oldest state in the nation based on median age, a distinction he says we are likely to hold into the future.

“Preventing homelessness among older adults requires increasing significantly the supply of affordable and adaptive housing environments that provide not just a place to live but are enriched by providing supportive services that meet people’s health, functional, and social support needs, and intervening with needed help prior to a crisis or emergency.”

With 50 people retiring every day in Maine, Kaye says the aging population here is increasing rapidly, and among that older population, those on a fixed income are particularly at risk of becoming homeless.


There are approximately 100 “age-friendly” communities in Maine, part of a national movement funded in part by AARP and MaineHousing. The Community Aging in Place program offers no-cost home safety checks, minor maintenance repairs, and accessibility modifications to eligible low-income elderly and disabled homeowners. These services enable recipients to continue living safely and comfortably at home.

Katie Spencer White, chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, said that in recent years she has seen a “double-digit rise” in the number of seniors staying at MMHS. An official at Hope House in Bangor told White she was seeing a similar spike in their numbers, too.

“There’s a generation of folks who don’t have official retirement benefits, and there’s a dramatic rise in the cost of housing,” White said. “People have vouchers, but the rents are far more than the value of the voucher.”

Beyond the challenges of affording increasing rent costs on a fixed income, White said many seniors are struggling to simultaneously handle medical care costs, meaning an increasing number are being discharged from hospitals and straight into homelessness.

A board member at MMHS is a mental health clinician who, according to White, says that while 10 years ago he was hearing of “one or two discharges into homeless every year,” he’s seeing four or five a month now.

“I talk to (health care providers) regularly and they’re heartbroken,” White said. “We’ve had people in their late 80s, early 90s who are living in their car.”

President Joe Biden supports the Aging in Place program. His budget invests $150 billion over 10 years to improve and expand Medicaid home and community-based services, such as personal care services, which would allow seniors and individuals with disabilities to remain in their homes and stay active in their communities as well as improve the quality of jobs for home care workers.

Morning Sentinel staff writer Zara Norman contributed to this story.

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