"It could happen to anyone": Older persons and homelessness

October 25, 2022

By Brad Honywill, Communications Coordinator – CHEC

Read the original publication here.    

Watch the webinar here.

Older adults who have experienced homelessness want other people to recognize that it could happen to anyone and that they deserve more support in getting appropriate housing.

Those were the main messages participants heard at an Oct. 5 webinar presented by Canada Mortgage and Housing (CMHC) and the Expert Team on Housing (ECOH), an online community of more than 1,700 housing experts sharing knowledge and expertise.

The webinar was moderated by Dr. Rachel Weldrick, a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University, Gerontologist and Housing Scholar working on the Aging in the Right Place Partnership (AIRP).

Participants heard from several older adults who had experienced homelessness.

Chris described herself as a 60-year-old mother, grandmother, friend and entrepreneur and “someone who tries to be a good person.”

“My goal in sharing my story is to help you understand that homelessness can happen to anybody. I want to address the myths that there are a lot of services out there, and that there is affordable housing, and that it doesn't happen to older people.”

She described how she rapidly went from affluence to poverty because of debt she said was foisted on her by an ex-husband.

“Everything's gone. And I’m one of the strongest women I know. If the system can take me out, it can take anybody out. I spent three and a half years coach-surfing, sleeping on floors in my 50s after making 200 grand-a-year and living in a 4,000-square-foot house and getting ready to retire.”

Some speakers talked about the challenges faced by the hidden homeless.

Hilary spoke about the challenges of finding affordable housing in Calgary.

Ann spoke about her experience in hidden homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

She said she tried staying with family but it didn’t work out.  Then she applied for subsidized housing in Calgary and discovered that the wait list was three years long.  

“Well, I got lucky, folks, I got lucky. I got an apartment. I've been here just about 20 years now.”

After 20 years of feeling secure in her housing, however, she feels threatened again because of the fear that renovations will eventually result in her being evicted.

Speakers talked about advice and observations that might be helpful for others facing housing security or homelessness in later life.

“It's possible to get out of homelessness,” Hilary said.

“Please be open-minded,” Ann said.” Don't think you know it all, just because you did it. And you made it.”

Chris said “there needs to be much more accessibility to detox after rehab. And there needs to be a lot more compassion and a lot more training for people that are in this business. I want people to think when you see a homeless person, don't judge them. Get those myths out of your head. They're not real. This is an incredibly strong person that is surviving unbelievable things that you can’t imagine. The system has crushed them. And they're waiting for us to help them.”