The ranks of homeless people in America are growing grayer as they retreat to the streets

Karla Finocchio’s descent into homelessness began when she separated from her partner after 18 years 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 rentals have plummeted 33% during the coronavirus pandemic to over $1,220 for a one -Rooms went up, 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,” says Kendra Hendry, a case worker at Arizona’s largest home, which accounts for about 30% of the elderly housed there. “These aren’t necessarily people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems. They are people pushed onto the streets by rising rents.”

According to a 2019 survey, 31% of Marin County’s homeless population is aged 50 and older.

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 issues 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, made it possible for my child to go to college,” says the single mother. “And then it suddenly went downhill.”

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

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

A 2019 University of Pennsylvania-led study of aging homeless people 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, says 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 see that retirement isn’t the golden dream anymore,” says Kushel. “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 more than 70 million, according to the census. With the oldest baby boomers in their 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, says Black, Latino and Indigenous people, who came of age amid recession and high unemployment in the 1980s, are 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 we thought Social Security would take care of us,” says Rudy Soliz, 63, operations manager of the Justa Center, which provides meals, showers, a post office 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 says. “A house down the street is $3,068 a month for a studio.”

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

Leave a Comment