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Homelessness, Stable Housing, and Opportunities for Healthy Aging: Exploring the Relationships
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This dissertation contributes to the existing literature on aging and health in human geography by exploring the relationships among homelessness, stable housing, and opportunities for healthy aging. Over the last 30 years, various social, economic, spatial, and political trends have reshaped Canadian society. These trends have resulted in a more complex, individualized life course in the 21st century, characterized by a greater number of delays and divergences as people adapt to the societal changes that have unfolded. Outcomes of such trends have been increasing rates of household financial problems, a greater incidence of absolute poverty, and growth in the homeless population. At the same time, Canada is undergoing demographic changes as the population ages and by 2030, it is estimated that approximately 25 percent of Canada’s population will be 65 years of age or older (Moore and Rosenberg, 2001). In this context, it is likely a greater proportion of the older population will have experienced homelessness in their life compared to previous generations (McDonald et al., 2006). Presently, academic research and public policy have failed to consider how people with histories of homelessness will fare in older age. This dissertation addresses this unexplored area of research through the achievement of three broad objectives. First, the research contributes an original conceptualization of the long-term effects of homelessness on health and aging. Second, it explores how stable housing can improve homeless people’s opportunities for healthy aging. Third, the research provides a better understanding of how being homeless in earlier life can affect experiences of health and aging in later stages of the life course. The fieldwork to achieve these goals involved a structured survey (N=50) and interviews (n=29) with a sample of formerly homeless older people in Toronto, Canada. The findings reveal that older people with histories of homelessness are aging in a more disadvantaged context than the general older population. Various aspects of stable housing can improve health and offer a better opportunity for positive experiences of aging. However, formerly homeless people continue to face barriers to affordable, quality housing and other determinants of a healthy lifestyle in older age.