Karla Finocchio’s journey to homelessness began after she divorced her 18-year partner and moved in with a relative.
After back surgery, the 55-year-old planned to utilize her $800-per-month disability payout to find an apartment. But she was soon sleeping in her old truck, guarded by her German Shepherd mix Scrappy, unable to afford lodging in Phoenix, where typical monthly rates for a one-bedroom jumped 33 percent during the coronavirus outbreak to over $1,220, according to ApartmentList.com.
Finocchio is one face of America’s graying homeless population, a rapidly growing group of penniless and desperate persons aged 50 and above who find themselves without a permanent home as a result of a job loss, divorce, family death, or a health problem during a pandemic.
“We’re witnessing a significant spike in elder homelessness,” Kendra Hendry, a caseworker at Arizona’s largest shelter, said. “These aren’t always folks who have mental health or substance addiction issues.” They’re folks who have been forced out of their homes by escalating rents.”
Academics predict that their numbers will nearly treble in the next decade, putting pressure on policymakers from Los Angeles to Innovative York to come up with new solutions for housing the last of the baby boomers as they become older, sicker, and less able to afford skyrocketing rents. Advocates claim that considerably more housing is required, particularly for the very poor.
The aged homeless, who navigate sidewalks in wheelchairs and walkers, have medical ages higher than their years, with mobility, cognitive, and chronic ailments such as diabetes. Many people caught COVID-19 or were unable to work due to pandemic restrictions.
“It’s terrifying,” Finocchio whispered, tears welling up in her green eyes as she sat on the cushioned seat of her rolling walker. “I don’t want to be living in a tent on the street in a wheelchair.”
Finocchio had never been homeless before. She’s now staying at Ozanam Manor, a Phoenix-based transitional shelter managed by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for adults 50 and older looking for permanent accommodation.
Finocchio stays in a college-style women’s dorm at the 60-bed shelter, with a single bed and a little desk where she keeps Scrappy’s photo. Finocchio’s brother has the dog with the perky black ears.
Lovia Primous, a 67-year-old Army veteran, began his downhill spiral after suffering a stroke, which took him his job and forced him to sleep in his Honda Accord. After recuperating from COVID-19, he was referred to the transitional shelter.
Primous, who grew up in a once-segregated African American area in south Phoenix, stated, “Life has been hard.” “All I’m trying to do is be optimistic.”
After her telemarketing job was eliminated, Cardelia Corley landed herself on the streets of Los Angeles County.
Corley, who is now 65, was startled to meet so many people who were also employed, including a teacher and a nurse who had lost her house due to sickness.
The single mother explained, “I’d always worked, been successful, and put my son through college.” “And then everything went south all of a sudden.”
Corley slept on buses and commuter trains all night in order to grab a cat nap.
“Then I’d walk downtown to Union Station and wash up in the bathroom,” Corley explained. With the support of The People Concern, a Los Angeles organization, she recently moved into a modest East Hollywood apartment.
The percentage of homeless persons 50 and older in emergency shelters or transitional housing increased from 22.9 percent in 2007 to 33.8 percent in 2017, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. Because HUD has modified the methodology in the reporting and now groups older persons in with all adults over 25, more exact and recent national numbers aren’t accessible.
According to a 2019 research sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, the number of adults 65 and older experiencing homelessness in the United States would nearly triple from 40,000 to 106,000 by 2030, resulting in a public health disaster as their age-related medical issues rise.
Dr. Margot Kushel, the director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, said that her research in Oakland on how homelessness affects health revealed that nearly half of the tens of thousands of older homeless people in the United States are on the streets for the first time.
“We’re seeing that retirement isn’t the golden dream anymore,” Kushel added. “A large number of the working poor are doomed to live on the streets.”
This is especially true for younger baby boomers without pensions or 401(k) funds, who are now in their late 50s to late 60s. According to the census, around half of both women and men aged 55 to 66 had no retirement savings.
According to the census, baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, currently number over 70 million. By 2030, everyone of the baby boomers will be 65 years old, with the oldest in their mid-seventies.
After years of laboring off the books, the elderly homeless receive reduced Social Security payouts. In a recent poll, a third of the 900 elderly homeless adults in Phoenix indicated they have no income at all.
Teresa Smith, CEO of the San Diego group Dreams for Change, has noted a shift in the homeless population’s age. The organization manages two secure parking sites for people who live in automobiles.
Because of the shame associated with homelessness, Susan, who stayed at one lot, only spoke if her last name was not mentioned.
While caring for her mother, the 63-year-old had renal cancer, and the couple lost their two-bedroom apartment after her mother died. The malignancy has now been declared to be in remission.
Susan and her dog slept in her car in a secured parking area with a restroom, showers, and a communal refrigerator and microwave.
She was astounded to discover an elderly man living in a car there, and she described it as “simply terrible.”
Residents, on the other hand, took pleasure in the neighborhood, grilling dinners together and even surprised one of their number with a birthday cake.
Susan was recently assisted by Dreams for Change in obtaining a one-bedroom apartment with a housing voucher after months of waiting.
“I feel like I’m at the Ritz,” she added, referring to the laundry and dryer, terrace, dishwasher, and bathtub.
The sight of elderly people sleeping in cars and abandoned buildings should alarm everyone, according to Donald Whitehead Jr., executive director of the Washington-based advocacy group National Coalition for the Homeless.
“We now accept things that would have outraged us just 20 years ago,” Whitehead explained.
According to Whitehead, the homeless are disproportionately made up of Black, Latino, and Indigenous individuals who grew up in the 1980s at a time of recession and high unemployment rates.
Because of discriminatory real estate policies, many people approaching retirement were unable to find well-paying employment or purchase homes.
“So many of us thought that Social Security would take care of us,” said Rudy Soliz, 63, operations director at Justa Center, which provides food, showers, a mail drop, and other services to the elderly homeless in Phoenix.
As of December, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit was $1,658. Because they worked fewer years or earned less than others, many elderly homeless persons receive substantially lower payouts.
People aged 65 and over who have limited means and have not worked long enough to obtain retirement benefits may be eligible for $841 per month in Supplemental Security Income.
Finocchio claimed that her payments to Social Security and Medicare were restricted since the majority of her work were off the books, such as telephone sales or watering office plants.
“The initiatives established by Congress to avoid poverty among the elderly and disabled are not functioning,” said Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor who led a study of the elderly homeless in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles County in 2019. “And the situation is just going to deteriorate.”
Jennifer Molinsky, project director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies’ Aging Society Program, agreed that the federal government should do more to guarantee that elderly Americans are well housed.
“The younger boomers were particularly badly impacted by the Great Recession, with many losing their homes just as they were about to retire,” Molinsky added.
Longer-term shelters for the elderly are helping to keep some individuals off the streets, at least temporarily.
Last year, the Arizona Department of Housing awarded a $7.5 million block grant to the state’s largest shelter for the purchase of a historic hotel to house up to 170 elderly individuals who were without a place to stay. Phoenix contributed $4 million to the upgrades.
The hotel is anticipated to open by the end of the year, according to Lisa Glow, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services, which manages the state’s largest shelter in downtown Phoenix. Residents will stay for about 90 days while caseworkers assist them in locating permanent homes.
“We need more respectable, safer, and pleasant locations for our seniors,” Glow added, stressing that the 500-bed shelter downtown makes it tough for the elderly.
Nestor Castro, 67, was fortunate in comparison to many others who had lost their permanent residences.
Castro was in his late fifties and living in New York when his mother died and he was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers, resulting in the loss of their apartment. He first resided with his sister in Boston, then in a YMCA in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for more than three years.
Castro received a permanent subsidized housing via Hearth Inc., a Boston group devoted to eradicating homelessness among older individuals, just before Christmas last year. To live in one of Hearth’s 228 flats, residents must pay 30% of their monthly salary.
Castro supplemented his income with a part-time work and a portion of his Social Security cheque. He also helps out at a food pantry and a housing-assistance organization.
“Housing is a major issue in this area because they’re developing expensive flats that no one can afford,” he explained. “A studio down the block costs $3,068 a month.”
Mark Hinderlie, CEO of Hearth Inc., believes that significantly more housing for the elderly has to be created and made cheap, especially now that the number of graying homeless individuals is on the rise.
“Housing individuals is less expensive than leaving them homeless,” Hinderlie remarked. “You have to reconsider what housing can be,” says the author.