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First-Of-Its Kind Report Digs Into Issues Of Senior Homelessness

President and CEO of Serving Seniors Paul Downey discusses the finding in their 'Senior Homelessness: A Needs Assessment' at the Potiker Family Senior Residence on September 7, 2021.
Melissa Mae
President and CEO of Serving Seniors Paul Downey discusses the finding in their 'Senior Homelessness: A Needs Assessment' at the Potiker Family Senior Residence on September 7, 2021.
On Tuesday, Serving Seniors released "Senior Homelessness: A Needs Assessment." The report describes the growing crisis of older adults who are at-risk or currently homeless in San Diego.

Sylvia Martinez used to hold a corporate job. She became homeless in 2010 after being misdiagnosed with a brain tumor.

“All my resources were gone and I ended up homeless, sleeping in my car,” Martinez said. “There’s a lot of people over 55, there’s no resources unless you have a job. There’s no resources and if you don’t have a job, you end up homeless and that’s what happened to me.”

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First-Of-Its Kind Report Digs Into Issues Of Senior Homelessness
Listen to this story by Melissa Mae.

People like Martinez are the focus of a new report released Tuesday by Serving Seniors, a nonprofit focused on assisting low-income and homeless older adults. The report is titled “Senior Homelessness: A Needs Assessment,” and is the first of its kind, addressing the needs of older adults who are at-risk of being or are currently homeless in San Diego.

“The facts of this study are sobering, but the solutions are achievable,” said Paul Downey, the president and CEO of Serving Seniors. “Over a quarter, about 2,000 of the folks on the streets in San Diego are over the age of 55. 88% of them became homeless here in San Diego and 43% of them are homeless for the first time.”

The nonprofit partnered with Harder + Company Community Research, with funding provided by the Hearst Foundations.

Their study found many homeless seniors are on the streets because they can no longer afford a roof over their heads.

“Most of the seniors that are out there on the streets are economically homeless. Things like illness, rising housing prices, loss of a job or caregiving expenses for a spouse contribute to a financial collapse,” Downey said, describing seniors in this position as "economically homeless."

Downey also said only a small amount of extra cash can make the difference for these seniors. “More than half of those interviewed report an additional $300 a month or less was the difference between being housed and unhoused,” Downey noted.

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VIDEO: First-Of-Its Kind Report Digs Into Issues Of Senior Homelessness

The report includes a list of potential solutions, including providing more resources for seniors at homeless shelters, removing technological barriers, addressing transportation and mobility barriers, investing in affordable housing and finding a way to provide that extra $300 a month.

Downey said Serving Seniors is working with the city and the county to implement solutions.

“We’ve already met with the city and the county.... Chairman Fletcher has been involved with it, as have other members of the board of supervisors. So what we want to do is not be a standalone. We want to have this incorporated into the plans that are being developed,” Downey said. “I’ll give you a perspective, for the City of San Diego, their current plan, if you go to their website nowhere in it does it mention older adults. That’s a significant oversight. They’re aware of it, and they’re working to incorporate some of these recommendations.”

San Diego County officials say the report gives them particular insight into the community and can help guide and focus their efforts to help older people who are homeless, like Martinez, who now has a roof over her head.

“We don’t all have mental health. We don’t all have substance abuse. We don’t all lack skills to get a job. It’s the homelessness,” Martinez said.

Corrected:
Emilyn Mohebbi and Jade Hindmon contributed to this story.