It’s hard to imagine a person over 65 living on the streets. However, senior homelessness is a reality. Find out what Father Joe’s Villages is doing to end senior homelessness in San Diego.
The Problem: Senior Homelessness in America
Ideally, seniors should be worrying about retirement—not which neighborhood sidewalk is safe enough to sleep on at night. However, as poverty and homelessness continue to surge nationwide, the prospect of living on the streets is becoming a reality for many adults over the age of 50.
The number of homeless adults aged 50 and up is steadily increasing. In 1990, only 11 percent of the homeless population in America was over 50. Currently, 31 percent of the nation’s homeless population is 50 and older – and that number is expected to rise 55 percent by 2035.
Many of these older adults are finding themselves homeless for the first time. This means that the factors contributing to senior homelessness are less likely to be severe long-term mental health or substance abuse. So, what is causing this alarming uptick in homeless elders?
What Causes Senior Homelessness?
When we consider a nationwide lack of affordable housing, an age discriminate workforce and salary stagnation throughout the years, it’s not surprising that more seniors are now finding themselves without a place to live. Many are unable to pay their rent or mortgage for a variety of reasons, including:
- Lack of affordable housing
- Consequences of the 2008 economic crisis
- Low wage work throughout life and therefore a lack of retirement income
- Inability to continue work due to physical health
- Lack of family/friends to provide needed support
- A crisis such as:
- Job loss
- Illness of them or a spouse
- Death of a spouse or parent
- Lack of “safety net” programs
Every day, Laurie Bronzellino, the Transitional Housing Program Manager for Father Joe’s Villages, sees firsthand the struggle low-income seniors face when it comes to paying for housing on a limited income:
“For most of the single adults that we work with on the Transitional Housing team, Social Security in San Diego only pays $910 per month, while the rent for a single-room-occupancy, studio or even just a room to rent start at $800—If you’re lucky. Affordable housing is almost non-existent. What we have are people over 50 on a fixed income of $910 per month. They can either work part-time or not work at all to supplement their income due to physical and/or mental health issues. Or, they are discriminated against because of their age so they can’t find a decent job.”
Affordable Housing for Seniors
The lack of affordable housing for seniors is a major concern. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there are at least 9 seniors waiting for every 1 occupied unit of affordable elderly housing nationwide. The average wait for affordable senior housing is 3-5 years (in places like New York City seniors can wait up to a decade).
In San Diego especially, it is difficult for seniors to find the affordable housing they need. Section 8 housing is a federal program that provides subsidized housing to those whose income is less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. Currently, there are 80,000 households on the Section 8 waitlist. The vacancy rate for apartments in San Diego renting for $2,000 a month or less is only 2 percent. The average rent of the cheapest studio apartment in San Diego is $1,402. This makes it almost impossible to afford housing if you are relying on social security or a minimum wage job.
Senior Homelessness in San Diego
Here in San Diego, senior homelessness is growing. According to the 2018 Point-in-Time Count from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, there are 1,747 people aged 55 and older living on the streets of San Diego on any given night— a 31 percent increase from 2016 and 9 percent increase from 2017.
Seniors have a harder time adapting and often have health conditions aggravated by life on the streets. Homeless seniors in their 50’s and 60’s often face health issues comparable to those living in homes in their 70’s and 80’s. The truth of the matter is, the average life span of those living on the streets is significantly shorter than those who can find refuge in shelters.
This concerning issue not only needs to be addressed nationwide but also on a local level. That’s why Father Joe’s Villages is doing all we can to ensure that San Diego’s homeless seniors have all the resources they need for a better future.
So, what is Father Joe’s Villages doing to help?
Our Services for Seniors
Father Joe’s Villages makes those most vulnerable a priority. We give people aged 70 and older intake priority for our shelters. (Additionally, we also offer intake priority to anyone who is frail, deaf, blind, has a cognitive impairment, is in their last trimester of pregnancy or is a family with children.) In 2017, we provided services for 3,700 people aged 55 and older.
Our Day Center for Homeless Adults serves as a safe place for homeless seniors to rest and escape the heat during the day, while the Village Family Health Center provides them with any physical and behavioral health care they might need. Additionally, our Dental Clinic offers restorative dentistry and full/partial dentures to help restore their ability to eat and speak.
Case Managers and Tenant Services Coordinators help seniors apply for benefits so they have an income which can help lead to independence. If needed, they also have access to daily meals, employment and education, addiction treatment and other services. Additional supportive services offered include case management, mental health therapy, nurse visits, medication management, psychiatry and peer support.
Best of all, our housing programs keep seniors off the streets and in homes where they can live healthier happier lives. Father Joe’s Villages Permanent Supportive Housing provides long-term rental assistance and supportive services to those with disabilities who would not be able to maintain housing stability without support. 65 percent of them are age 50 and over.
Father Joe’s Villages is also working to raise awareness for homeless seniors, shining a spotlight on what has become a quiet epidemic.
“Remember that the clients we serve are someone’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends,” says Lauri. “We must treat everyone here as we would want someone to treat one of our own family members if they were in this situation—with compassion, empathy, empowerment, respect, and dignity.”