media release

Spike in homelessness among aged prompts research for solutions, support

August 25, 2020


Sarah Canham, Gerontology,

Expertise: Late life homelessness, housing security: social determinants of health, environments and aging.

Atiya Mahmood, Gerontology, 778.782.7635,

(Available 9 am-5 pm PST, M-F)

Expertise: Environmental gerontology with a focus on the interconnections of aging, the built environment and health.

Shradhha Sharma, University Communications and Marketing, 604.202.2504,




Researchers from Simon Fraser University’s Department of Gerontology are investigating why homelessness is increasingly impacting Canada’s aging demographic.

A five-year project, Aging in the Right Place (AIRP): Building Capacity for Promising Practices that Support Older People Experiencing Homelessness in Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver, will draw on data from older persons with experiences of homelessness (OPEH) in Montréal, Calgary, and Vancouver.

The project is led by SFU gerontology professors Sarah Canham, with co-investigators Atiya Mahmood (city lead), Habib Chaudhury, and Julian Somers from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The researchers will identify key issues related to homeless seniors and provide feedback for creating policies that effectively support them, and improve shelter and housing options to meet their complex health and social needs.

“Homelessness is increasing among the older adult population in Vancouver, and their economic precarity has been made worse by COVID-19, which will lead to a further spike,” says Canham.

“Seniors facing housing insecurity and homelessness are often newly homeless and have very different housing, health, and support needs, compared with younger people who are homeless,” says Mahmood. “Research has shown that these individuals often feel ‘stuck in place’ or ‘oscillating in and out of place,’ so we want to explore how to support aging in the right place.”

Older people experiencing homelessness may be completely unsheltered and currently receiving outreach services on the street; they could be living in a shelter but need complex medical care, or could be individuals who are living in transitional situations and looking to move into housing that is more stable and long-term, explains Canham.

“It’s not just about providing housing, but also the service delivery that is attached to that setting. Over the next five years, we’ll look at whether these promising practices can be elevated to the status of best practice and implemented across Canada.”

No ‘one-size-fits all’ solution

The AIRP team’s key objective is to identify the solutions that work best among groups of OPEH, based on factors, such as age, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, disability, Indigenous and immigrant status.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted those at-risk for homelessness the most, the diverse pathways into homelessness also make it harder to identify the unique solutions to address homelessness. Approaches that work well in one case might not be applicable in another instance, Canham notes.

Researchers also plan to organize a photo exhibit to generate greater awareness about homelessness among older adults across Canada.

The research is being funded by a grant under a Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC)-Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) joint initiative called the Collaborative Housing Research Network (CHRN).

Key findings of a preliminary homeless count in Metro Vancouver (2020)

  • Those over age 55 continue to represent about a quarter (25 percent) of respondents experiencing homelessness, up slightly from 23 percent in 2017, but a continuing reflection of the upward trend in homelessness among seniors.
  • Indigenous people represent a third (33 percent) of people experiencing homelessness in the region.
  • More men (73 percent) experience homelessness, compared with women (25 percent).