Apr 292014

Aging and Homelessness

We are taught, in America, that we must be moving forward at all times, advancing in our careers, increasing our wealth, gaining more prestige, developing our physicality. We tend to worship youth and youth culture and when the aging process begins to hit (I am about to turn 70) it can be a shock to realize that the trajectory of advancement will, inevitably, undergo a decline, at least in the physical area.

Failure to adjust to the aging process can lead to unrecognized depression, and untreated depression can accentuate a decline in functioning. Eventually, you may not be able to work full-time and you may undergo a demotion at work. Or, due to a disability, you may lose the ability to continue with outside employment. Concomitantly, one’s income and standard of living may be affected.

These trends, incrementally, may lead one to the brink of homelessness. Especially if you do not have a partner, you may find yourself living in a rooming house or renting a drab efficiency. Finally, you may step over that line and find yourself on the street or in a shelter.

Yes, the aging homeless person faces special challenges. But the situation is not necessarily hopeless, especially if the problem of depression and other physical problems are addressed.

It can take a great deal of courage to acknowledge within yourself that I am aging AND am on the brink of homelessness or may even have crossed that line. But raw courage is, I think, an ingredient that must be present, along with the capacity to bounce back from a major setback and face a new reality.

The fact is that creativity and other key coping skills need not vanish as one ages, especially if nutritional needs are met. The aging person must recognize that he or she need not succumb to the stereotype of the aging person as mentally deficient, or even incompetent. So much depends on courage, the ability to fight back, and finally, the willingness to shed denial and seek competent professional help.

That willingness to accept that one has a problem and needs help can be the most difficult hurdle to cross for many aging folks, especially as they teeter on the brink of homelessness.

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