If I Am Homeless…How Old Do I Look?

joelThe latest fad flooding Facebook and Twitter is a Microsoft-created app (how-old.net), which, based on an uploaded selfie, guesses your age. The app is still in development; hence, it is not quite accurate. Thankfully so, particularly for people who are determined to be a decade older.

Some of the funniest “how-old” photos are the ones where grandma is assessed to be 33, and her 20-year-old grandson is determined to be 50. Of course, with Photoshop and the how-old app, anyone can smooth out their skin and hide wrinkles to appear a couple of decades younger. This is much easier than a facelift! When thinking of the homeless population my agency (PATH) serves, the how-old app would probably inaccurately judge their ages. For instance, Jennifer has been living on the streets for nine years. Over this period, she has had continual contact with one of our street outreach teams. Jennifer has deeply pronounced wrinkles on her forehead; dark, puffy bags under her eyes; and a sagging chin. Her hair is thinning and her eyes are cloudy. She walks with a bent back, while shuffling her feet. If her photo was displayed on the how-old app, I would bet she was carrying an AARP card. In reality, however, Jennifer is in her late 30’s. Her advanced-looking age cannot be ascribed to poor family genes; rather, it is attributed to living on the streets. Jennifer’s skin has endured the harshness of sunbaked heat in the summer…and dry, cold air in the winter. Her frequent bouts with the flu often turned into pneumonia. The concrete sidewalk-turned-bed has battered her body. Living on the streets, for years at a time, can rapidly increase one’s age—turning any young adult into someone appearing middle-aged or elderly. Jennifer is no exception. Most of those elderly-looking people on the streets are decades younger. Sure, Photoshop can smooth out their skin and disguise their wrinkles; yet, their bodies have been battered by street life. There is a solution, however, which surpasses Photoshop. At PATH, we have seen people’s looks dramatically change. Their skin becomes fresher, cleaner, and younger looking. Their eyes become clearer and more alert. They walk taller, with a jump in their stride. They look and act decades younger—sans Botox, facelifts, fad diets, or photo-editing software. How were we able to see such age-reducing effects on people who are homeless? We house them. We take them off the streets. We move them into apartments.