Stop surge of se­nior home­less­ness

Times Standard (Eureka) - - OPINION - By Frank J. Mecca Spe­cial to Cal­Mat­ters

A woman in her late 70s re­ceives an evic­tion no­tice from her mo­bile home park. She’s fallen vic­tim to a fi­nan­cial scam and is sev­eral months be­hind on her rent. She’s un­able to care for her­self and liv­ing in squalor. A neigh­bor calls county Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices and the agency de­liv­ers ex­actly what is needed to pre­vent this se­nior from be­com­ing home­less: a sub­sidy to help with rent un­til her fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is re­solved, a home care worker to as­sist with daily liv­ing and a case man­ager who will look out for fu­ture signs she’s in trou­ble.

In his un­prece­dented State of the State ad­dress and bold pro­posal to in­vest $750 mil­lion this year in sta­bi­liz­ing and ex­pand­ing hous­ing for the most vul­ner­a­ble, Gov. Gavin New­som has aligned the Capi­tol’s agenda with the public’s top pri­or­ity — end­ing the emer­gency of home­less­ness. With older adults the fastest­grow­ing seg­ment of Cal­i­for­nia’s home­less pop­u­la­tion, ex­pand­ing pro­grams pro­vided by Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices that suc­cess­fully pre­vent at-risk el­der Cal­i­for­ni­ans from fall­ing through the cracks must be a key part of state’s home­less­ness strat­egy.

A re­cent study from UC San Fran­cisco ex­pert Dr. Mar­got Kushel found peo­ple over 50 now ac­count for half of un­housed adults — a four-fold in­crease since 1990 when 11% of home­less adults were over 50. Older peo­ple al­ready liv­ing on the fi­nan­cial edge af­ter decades of work­ing in lowwage jobs and with lit­tle or no sav­ings or re­tire­ment in­come can be quickly de-sta­bi­lized by a rent in­crease, or in­jury or death of a part­ner or care­giver. Kushel found nearly half of un­housed older peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced their first episode of home­less­ness af­ter age 50.

Un­der­scor­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s need to fo­cus on home­less­ness preven­tion for our older pop­u­la­tion, the data show Cal­i­for­nia will face a “ti­dal wave” of peo­ple in their 50s, 60s and 70s liv­ing on our streets in the com­ing years. They are likely to ex­pe­ri­ence ge­ri­atric con­di­tions, such as de­men­tia and heart con­di­tions, typ­i­cal of se­niors 20 years older. In the words of Kushel, “50 is the new 70” for our home­less pop­u­la­tion.

Stem­ming the tide re­quires a com­bi­na­tion of hous­ing and ag­ing ex­per­tise, which is why New­som’s task force rec­om­mended a $100 mil­lion ex­pan­sion of Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices pro­grams as part of a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to curb home­less­ness. This ex­pan­sion would en­able Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices to reach 30,000 more older adults each year who are home­less or at high risk by hir­ing 350 ad­di­tional so­cial work­ers, low­er­ing the el­i­gi­bil­ity age to 60, and tak­ing the “Home Safe” rental as­sis­tance pro­gram — now in 25 coun­ties — statewide.

If New­som and the Leg­is­la­ture

sup­port this pro­posal, county Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices agen­cies could make a dif­fer­ence for a 63-year-old man who lives with a trau­matic brain in­jury and was kicked out of his home by a rel­a­tive. Two years too young un­der cur­rent el­i­gi­bil­ity rules for Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices pro­grams and with no other rel­a­tives who can care for him, he’s in­creas­ingly likely to be­come one of the se­niors New­som talks of “liv­ing un­fed on a con­crete bed.” Other se­niors fac­ing sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions make the dif­fi­cult choice to re­main with abu­sive rel­a­tives rather than the al­ter­na­tive — liv­ing in a tent, car or door­way.

New­som has pro­posed more in-depth study into the root causes of home­less­ness, with the goal of de­vel­op­ing short­term and longer-term strate­gies to com­bat the hous­ing cri­sis. County hu­man ser­vices agen­cies tasked with help­ing vul­ner­a­ble Cal­i­for­ni­ans be­come self-suf­fi­cient wel­come more data that will al­low us to ef­fec­tively tar­get our re­sources and be even more ef­fec­tive at de­liv­er­ing ser­vices to pre­vent and end home­less­ness.

Mean­while, we know enough now to see that early in­ter­ven­tion is an ur­gent im­per­a­tive. We know older adults are among the high­est risk of be­com­ing home­less — and we know Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices pro­grams mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween life at home or death on the streets.

A re­cent study from UC San Fran­cisco ex­pert Dr. Mar­got Kushel found peo­ple over 50 now ac­count for half of un­housed adults — a four­fold in­crease since 1990 ... .

Frank J. Mecca is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the County Wel­fare Di­rec­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of Cal­i­for­nia and a mem­ber of Gov. Gavin New­som’s Re­gional Coun­cil of Home­less­ness Ad­vi­sors, He wrote this com­men­tary for Cal­Mat­ters.

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