The Needs, Experiences, and Challenges of Older Homeless Adults
Sunday, January 18, 2015: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Balconies K, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Poverty and Social Policy
Amanda Amanda, PhD, McMaster Univerity
This symposium presents results from a series of Canadian and American based studies exploring different issues faced by older homelessness people and their implications for social work policy and practice. In the context of population aging, a plethora of policies and practices have emerged including those targeting healthy aging, health and social services, and income provision. While these frameworks are relevant to many older adults seeking social work services, they do little to inform practice with marginalized groups such as older people living on the streets and using shelters. The four presentations included in this symposium aim to illuminate the unique challenges faced by older homeless men and women including those who have aged while homeless, faced homelessness for the first time in old age, sought mental health services and relocated to long-term care. Amanda Grenier, introduces the symposium by providing an overview of the current state of knowledge on older homelessness and discussing how the ‘primacy of home’ forming the backdrop of most aging initiatives overlooks older homeless adults’ needs, experiences and challenges service delivery. She then focuses specifically on shelter workers’ accounts of their work with older homeless people. Her findings suggest that service providers in shelter settings have a limited understanding of older adults’ life trajectories and specific needs, and face many barriers when aiming to support older homeless adults. Victoria Burns, centers on older adults facing homelessness for the first time in old age. Her findings offer meaningful implications for social work practice including the importance of recognizing how processes of displacement and place attachment can impact the experiences and reactions of newly homeless older adults. David Rothwell, identifies differences in the psychosocial needs of younger and older homeless men using a shelter for the first time. His study advances knowledge in social work service delivery by identifying those psychosocial issues best addressed within and beyond the shelter environment. Karen Cameron identifies the unique issues faced by older homeless women seeking mental health services for depression. Her work suggests how mental health professionals can improve their responsiveness to this population. Finally, Tamara Sussman considers service providers’ experiences supporting older homeless adults’ relocation to a care facility. Her work highlights many service gaps and challenges pre and post move. Together these papers outline the service barriers that exist for people 'aging on the streets', broaden existing understandings of aging and homelessness in scholarly research and social programming and help to inform avenues for improving social work practice and service delivery for older homeless adults facing different challenges and accessing services from divergent starting points.
* noted as presenting author