Homeless seniors rely most heavily on Victoria shelters

Seniors stayed at the shelters for an average length of six months per visit.

A recent study on patterns of homelessness in greater Victoria, led by SFU master’s student in public policy, Hannah Rabinovitch, reported that there are a disproportionate number of seniors utilizing emergency shelters as compared to all other demographics.

Rabinovitch, in partnership with the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) at the University of Victoria, conducted a longitudinal study focused on patterns of emergency shelter use in greater Victoria.

Rabinovitch, who began collecting data for the study in April 2010 and ceased collection in May 2014, followed 4,332 individuals and examined approximately 46,000 shelter records.

“I was stunned by the amount of seniors [. . .] regularly seeking refuge.”

Over 85 per cent of shelter users accessed the shelters only once or twice. However, 13.6 per cent of users accessed the shelters as many as five times during the four-year period, with an average stay length of 30 days.

The remaining 1.5 per cent — mostly seniors — stayed four to five times over the four years for an average length of six months.

Despite the large sample of individuals followed, Rabinovitch conceded that the results were not fully representative of the population who use homeless shelters. “For example, it’s widely known in research that homeless women avoid emergency shelters for fear they’re unsafe and that their children will be apprehended, and because they lack women’s beds,” Rabinovitch said.

Rabinovitch, who has worked with five out of the seven emergency shelters in Victoria, is worried about the large number of seniors utilizing shelters. “I was stunned by the number of seniors with complex physical and mental health problems regularly seeking refuge in emergency shelters,” she said.

Rabinovitch also stated, “It really points to the fact that [. . .] there’s a housing gap and that they are finding serious challenges for homelessness.”

Seniors often experience more health problems than other segments of the population, and being homeless further contributes to these issues. “In general, older people experience more health challenges, and the longer people stay homeless, the worse their health outcomes get,” said Rabinovitch.

The homeless pattern reported in Victoria is similar to those in Ottawa, Toronto, and Guelph. The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness has partnered with the government, non-profit organizations, and local service providers to work towards eliminating the problem of homelessness in Victoria by 2018.

Bernie Pauly, Rabinovitch’s supervisor and a researcher for the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research, said that the team is investigating strategies that may contribute to finding a solution: “Those experiencing temporary homelessness would benefit from rapid re-housing, more emergency cash assistance and rental subsidies to prevent or quickly address homelessness.”