Houseless Elders…Unacceptable

Tiny - Posted on 20 January 2019


“yeah…I’m originally from the East Coast, this o’ New York girl can handle anything, even in the cold…”  This is not what an 80-year old elderly woman should ever have to say in her golden years…especially while living in California, the wealthiest State in the nation.


Having been forced out of her long-time apartment rental of over 10-years in Berkeley two years ago with nowhere to go, she now sleeps in an open doorway of a business, surviving through many damp nights in the cold wind and rain with only her personal possessions tucked away into a shopping trolley, covered in layers of warm clothing, bedding and plastic to keep herself warm with.


And just couple of weeks ago in the early morning on my way to work, I saw a lot of cop cars and an ambulance with yellow tape blocking off the next block on my street.  Little did I know at the time that an elderly man had died while sleeping in his cold van on the street…yeah, just one block from where I slept in my warm bed. Yet, there was nothing mentioned about it on the local news.


No, it’s not where our most precious communities, our elderly should ever have to live and die, especially in this wealthy, self-serving community, the SF Bay Area where it seems that building tons of unaffordable $3,000.00+ a month luxury apartments take precedence over humanity.  


In the past five years, there has been a mass increase of houseless elders living on the streets in Berkeley, a community that is supposedly known for its caring and compassion. Instead, there are several hundred disabled senior citizens over the age of 55 years living outside in the element, with many who are severely debilitated and wheelchair bound, unable to properly care for themselves.  


Many of these low-income elders, who are on MediCAL and/or on MediCARE are being rapidly discharged out of local area hospitals, shuttled into Berkeley and dropped off in the streets near pop-up winter shelters, which are not always reliable to be open every night and without any guarantee of getting a bed, especially for wheelchair bound elders who have severe mobility issues such as using the bathroom, with many dropped off still wearing their hospital gowns and/or ID wristbands.  


The numbers of houseless elders continue to rise, as more elders continue to be displaced from long term rentals that have now been ‘flipped’ and re-rented at a much higher rent, leaving them highly vulnerable in a community where it seems that overpriced housing for desensitized, overpaid techies takes priority over developing more affordable and accessible senior housing in the community.


What most people tend to not fully understand is that Alameda County now has full control of the low-income housing market in every city within its county jurisdiction.  This used to not be the case, as it used to be where each city within the County had its own affordable housing program, funded through HUD, however due to ongoing budget cuts to HUD on a Federal Level, all affordable housing has now been consolidated exclusively to the County, who now has full control. This includes all affordable housing for low-income individuals, families and most importantly, low-income seniors.  The County has implemented what is called a ‘Coordinated Entry System’, where everyone who is low-income and in need of affordable housing is jumbled into one huge database list, including elders.


This new Coordinated Entry System has now created a greater problem, making it even more difficult for low-income communities to access affordable housing, as only certain designated organizations are contracted to manage those in need of affordable housing through yet another database list which is only accessible to the County and these certain organizations, even further limiting low-income individuals, families and elders from getting access to affordable housing with most getting lost in this system, often silently falling off the list.  And in many cases, low-income houseless elders will most likely die before their number on these complicated lists ever comes up for affordable housing.


On top of this issue, the Coordinated Entry System’s list is also based on each contracted organization’s ‘criteria’ model, which is a ‘vulnerability index’ scoring system that is taken of each houseless person, including houseless elders, using a ‘point score’ criteria model, which usually results to many people, especially elders not scoring high enough to get in the top 50 on this huge list, despite of the fact that they are all vulnerable, elderly, disabled, houseless and poor…


Many of the houseless elders living on the streets mental health issues are also not being taken into serious consideration when they are being assessed for affordable housing through this system, as most of these contracted organizations are not properly trained to manage elders with such issues, especially when they are forced to live houseless on the streets.  For many of these elders, who have paid many years of taxes into this very system, being houseless is an extremely traumatic experience for them in every way imaginable, having to sleep outside in the element at a time in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable.


The whole system is broken…  It’s broken more than ever… This Coordinated Entry System is too large, fragmented and cumbersome to handle of the rising influx of houseless elders, many who have fallen victim to hyper gentrification in their communities and have been discarded. It seems as if there are too many different contracted organizations doing things in too many different ways with no real cohesiveness.  This has created a greater difficulty for low-income communities, especially elder communities to obtain affordable housing, which has become a rapidly growing epidemic of houseless elders in Berkeley…the East Bay…SF Bay Area…California. People are dying out there because of this.


The 211 service call center is ineffective, especially for elders.  It doesn’t actually help people find housing at all, let alone an elderly person houseless on the street. First of all, if a person doesn’t have a phone or has a severe hearing/visual/speech/mental disability, they most likely won’t have the ability to utilize the 211 call system as it’s all done by phone.  The 211 system also keeps people on hold for a very long time and once a person gets through doing a 20-minute ‘intake assessment questionnaire’ over the phone, which for many can be difficult, it doesn’t guarantee finding temporary shelter for those in dire need, let alone helping elders with special needs. Basically, 211 is a ‘referral’ service, therefore our low-income communities continue to fall through the cracks, especially our most vulnerable community, our houseless elders.  


It’s hyper capitalism, greed and soulless selfishness of big money developers, speculators, greedy landlords and the wealthy consumers that are taking precedence over humanity in this time and age which literally normalizes us silently walking past an elder living on the street, sleeping in a door way or slumped over in their wheelchair outside in the hot or cold weather. Having houseless elders living on the streets and in cold doorways would be unacceptable in most developed countries abroad, yet our low-income elders die alone in the cold here in one the wealthiest communities in the entire nation.


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