Opinion: Housing subsidies would help end homelessness for seniors in San Diego
Among the issues that fueled California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently rejected recall is a long-standing problem that is escalating in our metropolitan areas, including San Diego: homelessness.
Although it was the coronavirus pandemic and the impact on the state’s economy that initiated the recall effort, polls show many Californians are even more concerned about homelessness. In an Inside California Politics / Emerson College poll from August 2021, more and more voters named homelessness as the number one problem California faces today, topping 19%.
This question will not disappear from view after the recall election. He’s likely to remain a major issue in next year’s gubernatorial race. In San Diego County, the number of homeless residents has increased steadily over the past decade. First-time roaming in San Diego has doubled in 2020.
One in four homeless adults in San Diego is over 55, according to the 2020 San Diego Time Tally. Of this group of unprotected seniors, 88% have become homeless in San Diego County and 43% are homeless for the first time. time in their life.
Serving seniors exclusively served San Diego’s low-income senior population for 51 years. In collaboration with the Regional Homelessness Working Group and allied community organizations, we undertook formal research on homelessness among older adults in order to understand its true nature and identify more supportive services and solutions. effective.
Homelessness Among Seniors: A Needs Assessment came out this month. His findings reveal significant differences in working with homeless older people compared to the general population of homeless adults. Simply put, the causes of homelessness among seniors – and the solutions – are distinct.
Despite perceptions, only one in four seniors, currently or formerly homeless, surveyed reported having mental health issues. Only 7% reported substance abuse problems.
Rather, it is economic forces such as insufficient retirement income, unaffordable housing options, the inability to continue working, or a single unforeseen crisis such as job loss or serious illness that leads to homelessness. in the elderly.
In addition, cognitive or physical impairments and difficulties accessing services due to age-related disabilities make it difficult for older people to find help.
Therefore, traditional support services are not always helpful. Group shelters may not have the capacity to manage the needs of older people. Complex health issues, mobility limitations, incontinence, rules requiring older people to stand in self-service queues, and an increased need for physical security leave older people unable to cope. a hosting environment.
We need to adjust our current approach to immediately address the needs of seniors who have recently lost their homes. The aim is to find safe alternative accommodation.
To avoid the financial distress that fuels homelessness among seniors, our research found that a minimum amount of monthly funding would successfully prevent most economically homeless people.
More than half (56%) of seniors surveyed said that an extra $ 300 or less per month would make the difference between being housed and homeless. But only one-third (36%) of renters aged 62 and over eligible for some form of federal rent assistance received it.
A “shallow subsidy” approach recommends diverting current federal reimbursement funds for emergency shelter beds to an equivalent direct allocation to prevent homelessness.
Currently, the federal reimbursement for an emergency shelter bed is $ 12.50 per person per night, or $ 375 per month. The embezzlement of a person’s housing in a shelter to keep them housed offers a potential, affordable, short-term solution without additional funding.
At the same time, adopting a more proactive approach to helping older people find resources with easily accessible information and personal advice as well as better training and coordination among service providers would avoid delays in obtaining support and prevent elderly people to end up on our streets.
By providing evidence-based conclusions and recommendations in our report, Serving Seniors and the Regional Homelessness Working Group intend to support and encourage discussion among service providers, advocates, policy makers. and the community at large on senior homelessness, and point the way forward for cost-effective solutions that we can implement immediately.
We have a golden opportunity to solve several easily avoidable problems by making targeted use of existing resources.
The number of homeless adults over 55 is expected to triple over the next decade. San Diego should find this unacceptable. As the baby boomer generation continues to increase the percentage of seniors in the United States, homelessness in areas with high housing costs like San Diego County will increase unchecked unless we take action. immediate action. It is a matter of health and safety, and the time has come.
Paul Downey is CEO of Serving seniors, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps seniors living in poverty lead healthy, fulfilling lives.