America’s homeless ranks are graying out on the streets as more retirees

PHOENIX (AP) — Carla Finocchio’s homelessness began when she separated from her partner of 18 years and temporarily moved in with a cousin.

The 55-year-old plans to use his $800-a-month disability check to get an apartment after back surgery. But she was soon sleeping in her old pickup guarded by her German Shepherd mix Scrappy, unable to afford housing in Phoenix, where the average monthly rent for a single bedroom rose 33% during the coronavirus pandemic, according to ApartmentList.com. Over $1,220.

Finocchio is the face of America’s dwindling homeless population, a rapidly expanding group of destitute and desperate people aged 50 and older who are at risk after job loss, divorce, family death or a health crisis during a pandemic. Suddenly is without a permanent home.

“We’re seeing a huge boom in senior homelessness,” said Hendry, a caseworker center at Arizona’s largest shelter, where older people make up about 30% of those living there. “These are not necessarily people who have mental illness or substance abuse problems. They are people who are being pushed into the streets by increasing rent.”

Academics predict their numbers will nearly triple in the next decade, challenging policymakers from Los Angeles to New York to shelter the last Baby Boomers as they grow older, sicker and less able to pay the spiraling rent. To imagine new ideas. Advocates say there is a need for more housing, especially for those with extremely low incomes.

Moving on the sidewalk in wheelchairs and walkers, the aging homeless exceeds their years, with mobility, cognitive and chronic problems such as diabetes. Many people contracted COVID-19 or could not work due to pandemic restrictions.

“It’s so scary,” said Finocchio, his green eyes covered in tears as he sat on the padded seat of his rolling walker. “I don’t want to be on the street in a wheelchair and live in a tent.”

It was Finocchio’s first time homeless. She is now at Ozanam Manor, a transitional shelter the Society of St. Vincent de Paul runs for 50 people in Phoenix and is looking for permanent housing.

In a 60-bed shelter, Finocchio sleeps in a college-style women’s dorm, complete with a single bed and small desk where she displays a picture of Scrappy. The black-eared dog lives with Finocchio’s brother.

A stroke started 67-year-old army veteran Lovia Primus on its downward spiral, costing her her job and forcing her to sleep in her Honda Accord. He was sent to a transitional shelter after recovering from COVID-19.

“Life has been hard,” said Primus, who grew up in the once isolated African American neighborhood of South Phoenix. “I’m just trying to stay positive.”

Cardelia Corelli ended up on the streets of Los Angeles County after her telemarketing job was cut.

Now 65, Corley said she was surprised to meet several others who were working, including a teacher and a nurse who lost their home after an illness.

“I’ve always worked, been successful, taught my kid in college,” said the single mother. “And then suddenly things went downhill.”

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

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

The share of homeless people over the age of 50 in emergency shelters or transitional housing increased from 22.9% in 2007 to 33.8% in 2017, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development said in its 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. There are more accurate and recent nationwide figures. Not available because HUD changed methodology to report and include older people with all adults over the age of 25.

A 2019 study of older homeless people led by the University of Pennsylvania, which drew on 30 years of census data, projected the US population of people 65 and older to nearly triple from 40,000 to 106,000 by 2030. which will result in a public health crisis in their form. Age-related medical problems multiply manifold.

Dr. Margot Kushel, a physician who directs the Center for Vulnerable Populations at the University of California, San Francisco, said her research in Oakland has shown how homelessness affects the health of the thousands of chronic homeless in America. About half of the people are shown on the streets for the first time.

“We are seeing that retirement is no longer a golden dream,” said Kushal. “Many working poor are destined to retire on the streets.”

This is especially true for younger baby boomers, now in their late 50s to late 60s, who do not have pension or 401(k) accounts. According to the census, nearly half of women and men aged 55 to 66 have no retirement savings.

Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers now number more than 70 million, according to the census. With the oldest boomers in their mid-70s, all will reach the age of 65 by 2030.

The aged homeless also take short Social Security checks after working off the books. In a recent survey of nearly 900 older homeless people in Phoenix, a third said they had no income.

Teresa Smith, CEO of the San Diego nonprofit Dreams for Change, said she has also noticed that the homeless population is aging. The group operates two secure parking lots for occupants of cars.

Susan, who lived in a lot, spoke only when her surname was not used because of the stigma of homelessness.

The 63-year-old had kidney cancer while caring for her mother, then lost her two-bedroom apartment after her mother’s death. The cancer is now in remission.

Susan slept with her dog in her car in a gated parking lot that has a bathroom, shower, and a shared refrigerator and microwave.

She was stunned to see a man living in a car in the ’80s saying “just wrong”.

But residents enjoy the community, grilling a meal together and even surprising their group with a birthday cake.

Dreams for Change recently helped Susan get a one-bedroom apartment with housing vouchers after months of waiting.

With a washer and dryer, patio, dishwasher and bathtub, “I feel like I’m at the Ritz,” she said.

Donald Whitehead Jr., executive director of the Washington-based advocacy group National Coalition for the Homeless, said seeing older people sleeping in cars and abandoned buildings should worry everyone.

“We now accept these things that we would have offended about 20 years ago,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said black, Latino and Indigenous peoples who came of age in the 1980s between recessions and high unemployment rates are disproportionately represented among the homeless.

Many people approaching retirement never found a well-paying job and did not buy a home because of discriminatory real estate practices.

“Many of us don’t put money into retirement programs, thinking Social Security is going to take care of us,” said Rudy Soliz, 63, director of operations for Justa Center, which provides food, showers, a mail drop and more. Services to the aged homeless in Phoenix.

The average monthly Social Security retirement payment as of December was $1,658. Many older homeless people have very small checks because they worked fewer years or earned less than others.

People age 65 and older with limited resources and who haven’t worked enough to earn retirement benefits may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income of $841 per month.

Finocchio said there were limited contributions to Social Security and Medicare for him because most of his jobs were off the books of telephone sales or watering office plants.

“Congress-approved programs to prevent devastation among the elderly and disabled are not working,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Dennis Culhane, who led a 2019 study of aging homeless in New York, Boston and Los Angeles counties. Did. “And the problem is only going to get worse.”

Jennifer Molinsky, project director of the Aging Society Program at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, agreed that the federal government should do more to ensure better housing for older Americans.

“Young boomers were especially hard hit in the Great Recession, with many losing their homes near retirement,” Molinsky said.

Long-term shelters especially for older people are helping to take some off the streets, at least temporarily.

The Arizona Housing Department last year awarded a $7.5 million block grant to the state’s largest shelter to buy an old hotel temporarily home to 170 older people without space to stay. The City of Phoenix kicked in $4 million for the renovation.

Lisa Glo, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services, which runs the state’s largest shelter in downtown Phoenix, said the hotel is expected to open by the end of the year. Residents will stay for approximately 90 days while caseworkers help find permanent housing

“We need more respectful, safe and comfortable places for our seniors,” Glo said, noting that physical limitations make it difficult for older people in a 500-bed shelter city.

Nestor Castro, 67, was luckier than those who lost a permanent home.

Castro was living in New York in his late 50s, when his mother died and was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers, leading to the loss of his apartment. He initially lived with his sister in Boston, then for more than three years at the YMCA in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Just before last Christmas, Castro received a permanent subsidized apartment through Hearth Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness among older adults. If Hearth has 228 units, residents pay 30% of their income to live in one.

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

“Housing is a big problem here because they are building luxury apartments that no one can afford,” he said. “A place down the road for a studio is $3,068 a month.”

Mark Hinderley, CEO of Hearthstone Inc., said there is a need to build more housing for the elderly and make it affordable, especially now that the number of homeless people continues to grow.

“It’s cheaper to keep people indoors than to leave them homeless,” Hinderley said. “You have to rethink what housing can be.”

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Jenny Haar in Marin County, California and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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