Written by: Emma Jean, Staff Writer
SFU adjunct professor Dr. Sarah Canham is leading a study that documents the causes behind the sharp increase of homelessness in people over the age of 55.
Aging in the Right Place (AIRP) focuses on “housing for those in greatest need, which we defined as older people with experiences of homelessness,” according to Dr. Canham in an email interview with The Peak. She added that this age group in particular is very under-researched.
Dr. Canham described the necessity of treating homelessness as a multi-faceted issue with no one solution: “What ‘works’ for younger persons experiencing homelessness may not work very well for older adults. She added, “For instance, older adults are typically managing multiple challenges, including poor physical and mental health and/or the loss of loved ones and social support. As well, older adults are more reliant on fixed incomes and less able to keep up with the rising costs of living — and the costs of housing.”
The study is part of a greater research initiative called Collaborative Housing Research Network, with the intended goal of finding new information and insight into the housing crisis, as well as evaluating potential solutions to help bring it to an end. It is one of five projects within the greater Network across Canada.
While major research is yet to begin, Dr. Canham says that the preliminary research suggests a societal shift is needed to “advocate for housing to be considered a basic human right.” Additionally, the study suggests that different models of accessible housing will be necessary to decrease the amount of people living unhoused.
Dr. Canham notes that most older people require specialized housing regardless of income, often in the form of retirement communities and care homes, and that removing the income barrier would be a key practice to ensuring a healthier older population. “While housing and support models exist, they are most available to older adults who have the financial security to afford them. What’s needed, however, are affordable, accessible locations where older adults can safely live regardless of their income,” she said.
While the onus is on a collaborative group of entities to ensure housing for all, as Dr. Canham remarks, there are things anyone can do to make sure we get there: “Begin interacting with your elected officials and emphasizing the importance of housing and the need for there to be housing affordable to persons of all ages and all income levels. More housing needs to be built and this will require partnership and collaboration across multiple sectors — government, non-profit housing associations, senior-serving agencies, health authorities, and more.”