America’s homeless ranks are graying as more take to the streets | health

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) – Karla Finocchio’s slide into homelessness began when she split from her 18-year-old partner and temporarily moved in with a cousin.

The 55-year-old planned to use her $800 disabled check to get an apartment following back surgery. But she was soon asleep in her old pickup truck, protected by her German shepherd mix, Scrappy, and couldn’t afford housing in Phoenix, where average monthly rents have plummeted 33% to over $1,220 for a one-bedroom during the coronavirus pandemic increased, according to ApartmentList.com.

Finocchio is a face of America’s graying homeless population, a fast-growing group of destitute and desperate people in their 50s who are suddenly without a permanent home after job loss, divorce, family deaths or a health crisis during a pandemic.

“We’re seeing a tremendous boom in elderly homelessness,” said Kendra Hendry, a case worker at Arizona’s largest home, where elderly make up about 30% of those housed. “These aren’t necessarily people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems. They are people being pushed onto the streets by rising rents.”

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Academics predict their numbers will nearly triple over the next decade, urging policymakers from Los Angeles to New York to envision new ideas for housing the last few baby boomers as they get older, sicker and less able are paying increasing rents. Advocates say much more housing is needed, especially for those on extremely low incomes.

The aging homeless, who navigate sidewalks in wheelchairs and walkers, are of medical age above their age, with mobility, cognitive and chronic problems such as diabetes. Many contracted COVID-19 or were unable to work due to pandemic restrictions.

Cardelia Corley, 65, ended up on the streets of Los Angeles County after the hours of her telemarketing job were cut.

“I’ve always worked, been successful and made it possible for my child to go to college,” said the single mother. “And then it suddenly went downhill.”

Corley traveled on buses and commuter trains all night to take naps.

“And then I would go downtown to Union Station and wash in the bathroom,” Corley said. She recently moved into a small apartment in East Hollywood with the help of The People Concern, a Los Angeles nonprofit.

A 2019 study of aging homeless people led by the University of Pennsylvania used 30 years of census data to project that the US population of people ages 65 and older affected by homelessness will increase from 40,000 by 2030 106,000 will almost triple, leading to a public health crisis and age-related medical problems are increasing.

dr Margot Kushel, a physician who directs the Center for Vulnerable Populations at the University of California, San Francisco, said her research in Oakland on how homelessness affects health showed that nearly half of the tens of thousands of elderly homeless people in the US are homeless for the first time on the streets.

“We’re seeing that retirement isn’t the golden dream anymore,” Kushel said. “Many working poor are destined to retreat to the streets.”

This is especially true for younger baby boomers, now in their late 50s to late 60s, who don’t have pensions or 401(k) accounts. According to the census, about half of women and men aged 55 to 66 have no pension provision.

The number of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 is now over 70 million, according to the census. With the oldest boomers in their mid-70s, all will reach 65 by 2030.

The aged homeless also tend to have smaller Social Security checks after years of working on the books.

Donald Whitehead Jr., executive director of the Washington-based advocacy group National Coalition for the Homeless, said Black, Latino and Indigenous people, who came of age amid recession and high unemployment in the 1980s, were disproportionately represented among the homeless.

Many nearing retirement never got well-paying jobs and didn’t buy homes because of discriminatory real estate practices.

“So many of us didn’t put money into retirement programs because they thought Social Security would take care of us,” said Rudy Soliz, 63, operations manager of the Justa Center, which provides meals, showers, a postal drop and other services for the elderly homeless in Phoenix.

The median monthly Social Security pension payment was $1,658 in December. Many older homeless people have much smaller checks because they have worked fewer years or earned less than others.

Persons age 65 and older with limited funds who have not worked enough to receive retirement benefits may be eligible for an additional security income of $841 per month.

Nestor Castro, 67, has been luckier than many who lose permanent homes.

Castro was in his late 50s and living in New York when his mother died and he was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers and lost his apartment. He first stayed with his sister in Boston, then at a YMCA in Cambridge, Massachusetts for more than three years.

Just before Christmas, Castro got a permanently subsidized apartment from Hearth Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to tackling homelessness among older adults. Residents pay 30% of their income to stay in one of Hearth’s 228 residential units.

Castro pays with part of his Social Security check and a part-time job. He also volunteers at a pantry and non-profit organization that helps people find housing.

“Housing is a big problem here because they’re building luxury apartments that nobody can afford,” he said. “A house down the street is $3,068 a month for a studio.”

Janie Har of Marin County, California and Christopher Weber of Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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