Somewhere along the line, we became a disposable society. Disposable diapers. Disposable personal relationships. Disposable plastic containers. Our culture and environment are littered with unwanted objects.
And that includes old people.
The United States has a large homeless population, which includes more than 40,000 men and women aged 65 and older. California has, by far, the largest population of homeless people, about 130,000, and an unacceptable number of those are our senior citizens.
You’d think that in a land of such plenty, we could do more to ensure that our older citizens are better cared for. Not so much, and it’s going to get worse.
Within the next decade experts believe the nation’s homeless senior population will more than triple. California lawmakers launched a Master Plan for Aging earlier this year, and expect to have it completed by the fall of next year.
That plan had better be a good one. Homelessness agencies say California’s poorest seniors are in the crosshairs because of the state’s general lack of affordable housing. The median sales price for homes in California was in the neighborhood of $400,000 — a neighborhood most seniors cannot afford. A household would need to make about $80,000 a year to reasonably afford a home in this state.
A high percentage of senior citizens exist on a fixed income, not high enough to afford a median-priced home. High rent prices, an illness or income loss of any kind can, and often does put them on the streets.
About 20 percent of California’s senior population lives at or below the federal poverty threshold as of the end of last year. Any sort of emergency could send them spiraling down. Or as one senior housing expert said, so many “are just one financial or medical disaster away from homelessness.”
A recent survey indicates more than half of current California residents have or are considering moving out of the state. That’s fine for the mobile younger workers, but many seniors often don’t have the luxury of that option.
There are less-expensive communities that local seniors could relocate to, but then the problem becomes a lack of public transportation, inferior medical facilities and/or a limited social networks.
So, those are the problems. What are the solutions?
We’ve heard all manner of proposals here in North County, from more affordable apartment complexes to housing homeless people in local motels — but most of these ideas usually crash into a wall of reality.
The California Legislature came up with a bundle of bills designed to give local governments more authority to build affordable housing, all of which were signed into law last month by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Legislation doesn’t always pan out to be gold, but it is a meaningful first few steps toward a comprehensive solution to both the senior and homeless population housing.
It all needs to happen sooner, rather than later. The greatest nation on Earth could, and should do a far better job of caring for a significant percentage of the population.
Our elected leaders are failing the nation and its citizens in several key areas, and providing shelter for the less-fortunate and the poor elderly is just one of those areas. The care and welfare of military veterans is another gaping void. And then one looks at the biggest picture and sees a nation whose basic infrastructure has been ignored for far too long, putting fundamental support systems and lives at severe risk.
All these factors play into your decision in the 2020 presidential and congressional races. America needs stronger, more dedicated leadership.