First-Of-Its Kind Report Digs Into Issues Of Senior Homelessness (KPBS Midday

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On Tuesday, Serving Seniors released “Senior Homelessness: A Needs Assessment.” The report describes the growing crisis of older adults who are at-risk or currently homeless in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A new report finds one in four of San Diego’s homeless adults is over the age of 55 and more than 40% of them are experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives. The nonprofit organization serving seniors, published the report called senior homelessness, a needs assessment. Paul Downey, who is president and CEO joins us to talk about the issue of homelessness among seniors, and what’s being done about it. Paul welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:28 Great to be with you. Thank you.

Speaker 1: 00:29 Why did your organization take the lead and having this report done? Is this information that wasn’t out there before?

Speaker 2: 00:36 Well, it, it hasn’t gotten the attention that it needs serving. The seniors has been working with homeless older adults for more than 20 years. Uh, we’ve been providing direct services, but when the conversation goes on at the federal state and even the local level, there wasn’t much discussion about the needs of older adults. And as you noted more than a quarter of the folks on the streets of San Diego are older than 55. So we wanted to put this report together as a way to be a catalyst for discussion about what the recommendations might be, uh, to, to address this the situation. There’s a lot of discussion out there about youth and about veterans and the chronically homeless as there should be. But when you’ve got a quarter of the population being 55, plus it also warrants some focus.

Speaker 1: 01:23 So can you talk about some of the reasons the senior population in particular is more vulnerable to homelessness than other populations?

Speaker 2: 01:31 A lot of it is economic. I mean, that’s the thing that came through loud and clear that for, for most of these folks, it was, uh, an illness. It may be, it was a spouse’s illness and the cost of caregiving loss of the job, uh, cost of housing, you know, other things like that that caused the homelessness. Uh, the numbers of folks that reported mental illness was very low. It was 27%. Substance abuse was 7%. So these are not the chronic homeless that we see that are need extensive and very expensive services. What came through is this is a cohort that can be moved through the system quickly, uh, because you’re not dealing with the depth of problems that you’re seeing with some of the other populations. And so that really prompted us to look at really some low-hanging fruit in terms of some solutions, to be able to address this and take this group sort of out of the system and allow the more extensive research versus, you know, to be focused on those that are chronically homeless.

Speaker 1: 02:31 So what are your top takeaways from the senior homelessness report?

Speaker 2: 02:36 Well, th the top takeaway was that it was $300, was the difference for the people surveyed between being housed and unhoused. So we simply, we asked the question, how much money would it have taken so that we gave them a hundred dollars, $200 up to $800 and 56% of them said $300 or less. So what it tells us is this notion of a shallow subsidy. Uh, you know, if you gave $300 towards rent, could keep somebody from becoming homeless and so $3,600 a year. Well, if you compare that to the cost of a homeless person on the streets, depending on who you talk to, it’s 30,000 to $50,000 a year when you factor in police, fire, paramedic hospital, et cetera. So it is a relatively inexpensive intervention to keep somebody from becoming homeless or somebody who is homeless, helping them transition back into the housing.

Speaker 2: 03:30 The other next takeaway was that shelters were deemed really not to be safe. I mean, older adults don’t want to be in the shelters because they are physically afraid of being attacked. They’re concerned about things being stolen from them. And they’re concerned about being around substance abuse. So one of our recommendations was, was a real simple one, which is to create separate areas within shelters, for older adults that are age friendly, maybe with a little more security, maybe, uh, more space so that somebody who has a Walker or wheelchair, you know, has space to be able to store their items and, you know, and also bring in the specific services that they may need. So again, that’s an easy solution. It doesn’t require a lot of money and it can be done right now.

Speaker 1: 04:18 I think senior homelessness is increasing right now at this point in time,

Speaker 2: 04:23 It’s the economic pressures, it’s illness. I mean, you know, people who have saved, I mean, they get sick. Spouse gets sick loss of a job, can’t get reemployed. And so you see that having a major impact, the cost of housing, a medium price for a one bedroom apartment in San Diego is just under $2,000 a month. And so that lack of affordability is puts a lot of pressure on people who are on a fixed income. And so what we see is these economic pressures causing people to spiral into homelessness.

Speaker 1: 04:56 What’s next, in terms of advocating and pushing the recommendations your organization has made?

Speaker 2: 05:03 Well, we’ve already met with the city and the county, the mayor’s office, and then the county chairman Fletcher has been involved with it from the county as are other members of the board of supervisors. So what we want to do is not be a standalone. We want to have this incorporated into the plans that are being developed. Um, I’ll give you a perspective for the city of San Diego is their current plan. If you go to their website, they’re nowhere in it. Does it mention older adults, not a single mention in the current plan, that’s a significant oversight and they’re aware of it. And they’re, they’re working to incorporate some of these recommendations. So working through those two entities, we’re also meeting with elected officials at every level in the region to talk about it and have older adults become part of the dialogue. So, you know, we’re, we’re eager to actually see these things implemented. Um, you know, we don’t want another taskforce and other study. We want to get things done and get them done right now.

Speaker 1: 05:59 I’ve been speaking with Paul Downey, president and CEO of serving seniors. Paul, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: 06:05 Appreciate it. Thank you.

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