Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Victimization of the Elderly Homeless

Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Victimization of the Elderly Homeless

Article excerpt

Using data from the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC), this article examines the applicability of Felson's Routine Activities Theory to a national probability sample of older homeless individuals. Results indicate that the relative protection that women often have from most crimes is not transferred to the older homeless woman who is more likely than her male counterparts to be the victim of sexual assault but equally as likely to be the victim of theft and physical assault. Likewise, the protection often noted afforded by age against victimization is also not seen among the homeless. The research demonstrates that being male and having mental and physical health problems as well as substance abuse problems increases the likelihood of victimizations among the homeless population, in general. When predictors of victimization were considered far the 50 and older sample, these predictors remained the same except that the gender remained significant only for sexual assault. These findings are consistent with and supportive of utilizing Felson's Routine Activities Theory to understand and explain victimization among the older homeless population.

Keywords: routine activities theory; older adult; crime; homeless; victimization

In 1995, Diane Rich and associates published a book entitled Old and Homeless-Double Jeopardy. The title sets the expectation for any study of health issues among the elderly homeless-that they will exhibit the characteristic deterioration of health that comes, inevitably, with advancing age and that they will suffer the profound health consequences of being homeless. We explore these themes in a national sample of elderly homeless people, focusing on one aspect of health status, namely, physical, criminal, and sexual victimization.

At one time, being old was part of the stereotype of homelessness, as in the well-known ethnography of Skid Row by Bahr and Caplow, titled Old Men, Drunk and Sober (1973). Through the late 196Os, homelessness was frequently portrayed as a condition concentrated among older, White, alcoholic men. Studies of homelessness since the early 1980s have revealed a very different picture: most report an average age somewhere in the mid- to late-30s and a relative dearth of elderly homeless. In the 2000 Census, about 12.5% of the U.S. population was more than age 65. In most studies of the homeless, the corresponding percentage is usually less than 3%. Premature mortality has been suggested as the most likely cause of the "deficit" (e.g., Wright & Weber, 1987).

Although older adults tend to report more fear of crime, official crime statistics suggest that older adults are far less likely than younger cohorts to be the actual victims of crime, one of the most consistent relationships identified in the criminological literature (Bachman, Dillaway, & Lachs, 1998; Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, 2005; Iutovich & Cox, 1990). Whether the same is true of the elderly homeless is one of three main questions to be taken up in this article. Certainly, older homeless adults are an understudied population and their victimization may or may not conform to the customary age pattern. Age notwithstanding, it is well-known that homeless people suffer physical, sexual, and criminal victimization at sharply elevated rates (Wright, Rubin, & Devine, 1998, p. 167), a pattern that often commences in childhood. It would be surprising if this pattern did not persist throughout the life cycle. One cannot be certain about this, however, because research on the victimization of the elderly homeless is practically nonexistent. Our purpose here is to rectify that situation by reporting data on patterns of victimization of the elderly homeless from the well-known 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients: A Comparison of Faith-Based and Secular NonProfit Programs (Aron & Sharkey, 2002). …

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