When the results of Montreal’s most recent homelessness point-in-time (PIT) count were announced at a downtown Montreal press conference in July 2015, one of the most startling findings, at least from the point of view of a social gerontologist, was that 41% of the total homeless population and 49% of shelter users were aged 50 years and older (Latimer et al., 2015). Consistent with this, a number of Montreal agencies have reported a fourfold increase in older shelter residents over the past two decades (La Maison Marguerite de Montreal inc., 2013; Maison du Père, 2014). While older adults’ use of emergency shelters is on the rise across Canada, the proportion of older Montreal shelter residents is nearly double that of recent national estimates (24.4%) (Gaetz et al., 2016).
I was one of the 600 volunteers who participated in the PIT count the night of March 24th, 2015 and was stationed at the Old Brewery Mission, one of Canada’s largest homeless shelters. At the time of the count, I was working towards a PhD in Social Work at McGill University. As part of my dissertation, I had the opportunity to sit down with 15 older men and women who were residing in Montreal shelters and learn what it was like for them to experience homelessness for the first time at age 50 years and over (Burns, 2015; 2016).