While homelessness is one of the most severe gambling-related harms, and older people appear to be more at risk, there has been limited research on how gambling and homelessness are linked, the role of contributing factors, and the adequacy of current service responses.
This exploratory study reviews existing research literature, and undertakes a qualitative empirical investigation of gambling and homelessness among older people (aged 50+ years) in Victoria, Australia.
The review of peer-reviewed research articles allowed for broad observations, including:
- A large proportion of homeless populations do not gamble, but those who do are often more likely to be harmful gamblers.
- The prevalence of harmful gambling among homeless populations is often higher than in the general community. This finding is consistent across multiple countries.
- The direction of the relationship between gambling and homelessness has not yet been rigorously investigated, however there are a range of contributing multi-level factors identified.
In the qualitive study, four main themes were identified:
Hidden and overlooked: Gambling among older people experiencing long-term homelessness.
Gambling among older people experiencing long-term homelessness is often hidden and service providers frequently overlook it. The harmful effects of gambling can exacerbate the conditions of long-term homelessness among older people.
Rapid losses and ruin: High intensity gambling and becoming newly homeless.
Gambling can precipitate homelessness among older people, particularly in cases of first-time homelessness later in life.
Major life events/changes are an underlying trigger for gambling related harm and subsequent homelessness in many cases.
Multiple and complex: Factors contributing to gambling and homelessness among older people.
The link between gambling and homelessness is rarely linear, with multiple and complex factors, including at individual, interpersonal, and structural levels, often playing a role.
Recognising and responding: Perspectives on building a public health approach to gambling and homelessness among older people.
Some current responses to co-occurring gambling and homelessness among older people are effective (financial counselling, crisis support), but there are also gaps in the service system. A key challenge is to not only respond to the needs of homeless individuals with gambling issues, but also to recognise these issues in the first place.
A complementary range of service improvements is needed.
Vandenberg, B, O’Brien, K, Livingstone, C, Carter, A 2021, Gambling and homelessness among older people: an exploratory study, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation,