California Senate’s Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services hosts panel discussion about older adults experiencing homelessness


Hannah Saunders


The California Senate’s Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services met for a panel discussion regarding older adults experiencing homelessness on Thursday. The discussion provided information on the current rates of adults experiencing homelessness in the state, and ways to combat the issue.

Older adults in California represent the fastest growing age group of the state’s homeless population, although in recent years, California has made investments in creating and expanding programs under the California Department of Social Services’ (CDSS) Housing and Homelessness Division to address housing supports for older adult populations, including those living with disabilities, and those who are clients of Adult Protective Services, among others.


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Patti Prunhuber, the Director of Housing Advocacy for Justice in Aging, led the panel discussion. Justice in Aging is a national organization that uses the law to fight senior poverty, although Prunhuber focuses her work in California.

“The rent affordability crisis is hitting all Californians,” Prunhuber said. “Low-income renters, and older adults are most likely to struggle with rent unaffordability. They are more rental cost burdened than the population as a whole, and additionally, as older renters age, they face an increased likelihood that their fixed incomes haven’t kept up with escalating rents. They have depleted their savings, or they have lost a spouse or partner, resulting in older renter households age 75 and over facing the highest cost burdens.”

According to Prunhuber, California adults over 55 are the fastest growing group of people who are experiencing homelessness in the state, with the steepest increase impacting individuals 65 and older. From 2017-2021, homelessness in California among those who are over 65 more than doubled. 

“This trend will continue unless we swiftly take steps to reverse it,” Prunhuber said.

About 36% of people experiencing homelessness of all ages in the state report having disabling conditions, and the percentage is greater for older adults, according to Prunhuber. Older adults require more assistive services to obtain and maintain housing due to challenges navigating the entry system to homeless services because of language barriers, technical issues, lack of transportation, and mobility barriers.

“Living on the streets at any age is incredibly difficult, but older adults who are living on the streets are more likely to experience health declines and develop chronic conditions that are typical of a housed person 20 years older than their chronological age,” Prunhuber said.

The Housing and Disability Advocacy Program (HDAP) assists individuals who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness, and who are also likely eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. 

Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, highlighted the city’s experiences implementing the HDAP program. Rhorer views HDAP as an opportunity for outreach, client engagement, case management, advocacy services, and temporary and permanent housing options during the SSI application process to increase the likelihood of adults living with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness with obtaining SSI and housing.

“We’ve enrolled about 400 people in HDAP so far,” Rhorer said, who noted that 61% of HDAP members are permanently housed, and the remainder are temporarily housed. 

He explained how SSI alone cannot support rent and living expenses in the majority of the state, and that the HDAP program should consider ongoing funding sources, even after individuals get on SSI. Challenges San Francisco has come across include staffing shortages, which make processing times for applications about 18 months.

The CDSS proposes a change to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget, and an ongoing amount of $3.5 million to convert 17 limited-term positions to permanent resources in the Housing and Homeless Division to provide crucial services to individuals experiencing homelessness.

Another budget change CDSS proposes is obtaining $524,000 from the general fund for 2023-2024, and $510,000 of ongoing funding to employ two associate governmental program analysts and one staff services manager, who would provide ongoing county technical assistance and oversight of requirements within the Homeless Assistance program. 

CDSS also proposes changes to the language within the governor’s budget, such as defining homelessness to include survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous and life-threatening circumstances that relate to violence against an individual or family member, including children. The proposed language change would also clarify that a tribe, tribal entity, or tribal agency is eligible for funding for the Bringing Families Home program, which aims to reduce the number of families in the child welfare system who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. 

The subcommittee held open the six proposals.