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.

Senior Homelessness in San Diego

The Problem: Senior Homelessness in America

Seniors should be figuring out how to have a lovely afternoon, not determining 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 discriminatory 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
  • Consequences of the coronavirus pandemic
  • 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
  • Systemic racial discrimination
  • A crisis such as:
    • Job loss
    • Illness of them or a spouse
    • Death of a spouse or parent
    • Lack of “safety net”

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 significant concern.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least nine seniors are waiting for every one 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 rely on social security or a minimum wage job.

Senior Homelessness Statistics in San Diego

Here in San Diego, senior homelessness is a significant problem.

According to the 2020 Point-in-Time Count from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, of the 3,971 people experiencing homelessness in San Diego who live unsheltered, 27% living on the street were 55 years old or older (that’s 985 people).

Seniors have a more challenging 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 is that the average lifespan 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 Experiencing Homelessness

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 2019, we provided services for:

  • 1,800 people aged 60+
  • 300 people aged 70+
  • 30 people aged 80+

Our Day Center for Homeless Adults serves as a safe place for homeless seniors to rest and during the day, while the Village 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 restore their ability to eat and speak.

Case Managers and Tenant Services Coordinators help seniors apply for benefits to have an income that can help lead to independence. If needed, they also have access to daily meals, employment and education training, substance-use disorder treatment, and other services.

Additional supportive services include:

  • case management
  • behavioral health services
  • nurse visits
  • medication management
  • Psychiatry
  • peer support groups

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. Sixty-five 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.”

Senior Homelessness in San Diego | "Remember that the clients we serve are someone's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends." Laura, Transitional Housing Program Manager

What You Can do to Help Seniors Experiencing Homelessness

There are 15 ways to help end homelessness, from supporting Father Joe’s Villages and instituting a matching gifts program at your company to voting for politicians who will institute proven initiatives that reduce the number of seniors experiencing homelessness.

Here are just a few of your options:

Bottom Line on Senior Homelessness

Like homelessness in general, people already know how to end homelessness for those who are senior citizens.

Providing free or affordable housing, improving access to mental health services, eliminating systemic discrimination, and arranging for better care for veterans would all, ultimately, end homelessness. What’s necessary is the will to support and enact these measures.

Until then, people like you and charities like Father Joe’s Villages will do their best to improve the lives of seniors experiencing homelessness.