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A Senior On The Streets, With Little Chance Of A Home

 April 25, 2019 at 10:48 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Then social security checks, little retirement savings and a lack of affordable housing are forcing some California seniors onto the streets in San Diego County. The number of unsheltered people between the ages of 55 and 74 rose 6% last year as part of our series grain. California KPBS is Amica Sharma spent the day with a 71 year old man who lives on San Diego sidewalks. Speaker 2: 00:29 Okay. Speaker 3: 00:30 Carl Russell wakes up at 5:00 AM he slept on the sidewalk sitting up against San Diego senior wellness center. Speaker 4: 00:38 The concrete is hard and you can't get comfortable when it's raining and your clothes are wet and you got dog walking up and down beside you and strange people. Speaker 5: 00:48 Justin jeans, a blue windbreaker over an orange sweatshirt. He says he's still tired. I can't sleep solid because I don't want to get my throat cut. I lost a friend out here who got stabbed to death. Carl points to his wooden cane has only defense here, Speaker 3: 01:03 calls it his first big challenge of the day is finding a spot, trying to do the number two so he walks eight blocks through other homeless encampments. To a nearby deli. Speaker 5: 01:15 Sammy. Hello. This is a nice guy. He feeds me. It gives me a cup of coffee. Let me put it a lot. Even when I got a dollar, Carl seems to know everybody here. He spent some time saying hello and then walks back to the senior center, Speaker 3: 01:31 shower and food. After that, he gets on a bus. Speaker 5: 01:35 It goes back to 15 new lego blocks. I go to sleep. Speaker 3: 01:43 Carl has been homeless for more than three years now. He stole the rotisserie chicken from Vaughn's a while back because he was hungry. Speaker 4: 01:50 I can't see no goal. At the end of the rainbow frosting, this is getting harder and harder and I'm getting older and older Speaker 3: 01:58 friends, other homeless seniors have killed themselves. Speaker 4: 02:02 Charlie committed suicide. It hurting me so bad. I had tears the first time you tried to commit suicide. I talked him out of it. A call nine one one. Speaker 3: 02:12 Carl keeps looking for a place to live, but affordable housing options in California for relatively healthy homeless seniors are few and regular housing is way beyond reach. He gets $800 a month from social security. Then you apartments being built around him in San Diego, Costa, triple or quadruple that amount. Speaker 4: 02:32 Hey, get a job in the work anymore with two knees replaced, two hips is almost impossible and who's going to give you a job? Speaker 3: 02:39 He's working with a pro bono lawyer to try to convince the teamsters union. He's entitled to a pension from his truck driving days. In the meantime he prays and hopes, but on this date dejection got the better of him. Speaker 4: 02:53 Society doesn't care about the singers like we have worked most of our lives and this is our reward to be homeless Speaker 3: 03:00 and on the street in San Diego. I'm Etha Sharma and the story is from our California dream collaboration. Find out more about our series at grain, and joining me now is KPBS investigative reporter Amica Sharma welcoming Meetha. Thank you. It's good to be here. The last thing we heard in your story was Carl Russell saying society doesn't care about seniors. We've worked most of our lines and this is our reward to be homeless and on the street. What's changed between his generation and the generation before his in terms of how this country takes care of its aging population. Two major changes, lack of affordable housing. And the way we fund retirement has changed in the United States. Retirement used to be thought of as a three legged stool, one leg accompany pension, another lake, social security, a third lake, your own form of some type of retirement savings. But fast forward to today and what you are finding is that company pensions have gone away and a lot of people in California are having an extremely tough time socking away money for retirement because of the high cost of housing. Speaker 3: 04:18 More than half of California renters are spending over a third of their income on housing. Another third are spending more than half. So as you can, well imagine, that leaves very little money for food, for gas, for utilities, much less retirement. And so what you are left with is a lot of people relying on living on social security and that is not enough. And there are a lot of car Russell's out there. How many seniors are facing homelessness in San Diego? Last year in San Diego county, there were around 1700 homeless people between the ages of 55 and 74 and I want to mention Los Angeles County because what has been seen there is really dramatic. So overall homelessness in La County has gone down, but senior homelessness shot up 22% now we did see arise at 6% in San Diego County last year. You're seeing similar increases in major counties across the State, Sacramento County, San Francisco County, San Bernardino County as well. Speaker 3: 05:31 And we hear about how San Diego is America's finest city, if this is the best America has to offer. What is it like to age and other parts of the country? Our seniors facing homelessness at a higher rate and other places, I can't say whether they're facing homelessness at a higher rate in other places, but what I can say is this trend of senior homelessness is not unique to California. According to the Department of Housing, urban development statistics, there was a 48% increase in senior homeless in the United States between 2007 and 2016. According to the Homelessness Research Institute, the population is senior homelessness population is expected to double by 2050 in the United States reaching 95,000 people in your story, Carl talks about how he sleeps with caution to avoid getting his throat cut. Um, we hear all the time that San Diego is one of America's safest cities, but um, is that the reality if you're homeless or especially if you're a senior and you're homeless? Speaker 3: 06:40 No, that's not the reality. People who live on the streets are under constant threats of violence. Whether that's passers by, you know, kicking, sleeping, homeless people in the head, uh, or throwing rocks at them, or whether homeless seniors are being attacked by other homeless people. In any case, it is not safe for them or really anyone else who's homeless living on the street. And your profile of Carl is part of a statewide series called Grain California. Can you tell me about some of the other issues that will be talked about? There are a whole host of of issues. It's an 11 parts series that profiles seniors who are aging in California. So through them we learn what is like to hold down a job, what it's like to look for a job, what it's like to look for transportation, what it's like to live out your dream, pursue another dream in these years, in these golden years. Speaker 3: 07:42 Um, the fact of the matter is is that California is getting older, seniors are growing at a faster rate than any other age group in the state. And it's estimated that there will be 9 million California seniors by 2030 and that is going to affect every aspect of life here, whether it's healthcare, housing, or transportation, and a whole other array of issues. And from what you've observed in your reporting on this, are there any systems in place that could work to assist seniors who are facing homelessness today? You know, Jay, the bottom line in this discussion is there has to be more affordable housing for seniors. There has to be more affordable housing for all Californians, but especially for seniors. Outside of that, there are groups like serving seniors in San Diego that do what they can to make life a little bit easier for seniors who are living outside. Um, they do that by providing them a place to take a shower and giving them meals. Hot Meals, seven days a week. I've been speaking with KPBS is Amica Sharma. Amita. Thank you. Thank you. Speaker 6: 09:00 Okay.

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In parts of California, seniors are the fastest growing part of the homeless population.