June 8, 2023
Contact: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA – Serving Seniors
619-997-2495 or GLF@SAN.RR.COM
Point In Time Count Growth Presses Need For Specific Solutions to Address Older Adult Homelessness
Serving Seniors issued an urgent call for attention to specific solutions to address the needs unique to the older adult homeless population, identified among the growth in homelessness reported in the newly released 2023 Point in Time Count (PITC) data today by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness (RTFH).
The 2023 PITC reports the number of San Diego County residents experiencing homelessness who are age 55 and older is now up to 29% of those counted, up from 25% in 2022. The trend reinforces information first reported in the 2021 Serving Seniors Needs Assessment. The oldest person surveyed In the 2023 PITC was 81 years old.
“Similar to last year, the shocking growth in homelessness among San Diego County residents over age 55 is a significant component of the region’s homeless population,” said Serving Seniors COO Melinda Forstey. “While this is not unexpected, it is daunting and disappointing.
“The causes of older adult homelessness are in many ways different from the general unhoused population. The solutions required must address these differences. Serving Seniors has identified several viable solutions showing tremendous promise in addressing this challenging community issue,” said Forstey.
Older Adult Homelessness Requires Unique Solutions
Economic forces such as insufficient retirement income, unaffordable housing options, the inability to continue working, or a single unexpected crisis such as job loss or serious illness are the primary drivers of homelessness among older adults.
To ward off the financial distress fueling older adult homelessness, Serving Seniors’ research found a minimal amount of monthly funding would successfully prevent most economic-based homelessness – the “shallow rental subsidy” approach. More than half (56%) of surveyed older adults reported that an additional $300 to $500 per month would make the difference between being housed and homeless.
In the past year at the urging of Serving Seniors, both the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and the San Diego City Council established pilot programs providing shallow rental subsidies to qualified older adults to determine the viability of this approach.
The shallow rental subsidy approach prevents homelessness instead of chasing solutions after the fact. This approach provides a more humane solution – and it saves money. Estimates provided by County staff for emergency shelter operating costs including services range between $2,500 to $6,000 per month depending on the type of services offered.
“We remain optimistic despite the severity of the numbers,” said Forstey. “Shallow rental subsidy programs and other resources targeting older adult homelessness can help people quickly, allowing us to focus other resources on those who need more significant help.”
In addition, Serving Seniors calls on decision-makers and funders to create age-friendly shelters, or provide dedicated areas for older adults within congregate shelters and safe camping areas. These must accommodate aging and mobility issues, provide specific staff training In homelessness and aging issues, and offer easily implemented accommodations in traditional support services to be effective.
“Affordable housing is the end goal, but people need help now,” said Forstey. “We have a golden opportunity to address several easily preventable problems through targeted leveraging of existing resources.
“San Diegans find this situation unacceptable. Homelessness in areas with high housing costs like San Diego County will grow unchecked unless we take immediate action,” emphasized Forstey.
From a taxpayer perspective, shallow rental subsidies are more cost-effective than street clean-ups. They offer a viable opportunity to help those struggling to help themselves to lift them up. From a humanitarian standpoint, Serving Seniors sees these efforts as a must.
About Serving Seniors
Founded in 1970, Serving Seniors is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Diego, California, dedicated to serving low-income adults aged 60 and over. A leader in senior advocacy and programming, Serving Seniors has created an innovative model of comprehensive services including nutrition meals, housing, health and social services and lifelong learning opportunities to thousands of seniors in need. It is the largest provider of meals to seniors in the county, and one of the only organizations in the nation providing a robust range of services to vulnerable, at-risk older adults.
Serving Seniors President and CEO Paul Downey has been instrumental in the organization’s growth over the past 28 years. Since being appointed the role in 1995, Downey has guided the nonprofit’s innovative efforts to provide supportive services focused on keeping low-income seniors healthy and independent. Under Downey’s leadership, Serving Seniors has grown to provide over 1million nutritious meals and coordinated services to 7,000 older adults each year. Read Serving Seniors’ groundbreaking report, Senior Homelessness: A Needs Assessment.