‘You don’t want to live anymore.’ California’s seniors living in poverty struggle without retirement savings

At 61, Linda Fett came to the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row earlier this year with no savings. After their 1992 divorce, the longtime caregiver used what little money she had to pay bills, including car payments and other expenses, to live independently.

Fett now receives about $220 a month from the county’s general assistance program, with $150 going to Union Rescue Mission’s Gateway project, which provides short-term shelters for people on the brink of homelessness. That leaves her about $70 a month to pay for basic needs.

“The biggest hurdle I kept coming up against as a caregiver was the high rents, even in the East,” she said. “I kept driving around trying to find affordable housing… I didn’t really have a lot of savings. I lived off my salary.”

Linda Fett is one of many seniors living without a pension plan.

Linda Fett is one of many seniors living without a pension plan.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Fat is part of a growing population of seniors living in poverty without a pension plan or pension and struggling to survive by working past retirement age or eking out state or federal assistance. She has no family members to turn to for help.

Adults age 65 and older are the only age group in the country to see an increase in poverty rates over the past year, from 9.5% in 2020 to 10.7% in 2021, according to the US Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which provides the target programs into account in supporting low-income families and individuals not included in the official poverty rate.

About 14,896 adults age 55 and older were homeless in Los Angeles County in 2020, according to figures from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Homelessness among older adults in the county has increased by 20% since 2017.

California’s 60+ population is also growing faster than any other age group and is projected to reach 10.8 million people by 2030, accounting for a quarter of the state’s population. To counteract the expected population boom, Governor Gavin Newsom released the Master Plan for Aging in 2021, outlining five goals to be achieved over a 10-year period to improve the health and lives of older people and people with disabilities.

Key concerns include finding ways to provide more affordable housing options for seniors who are becoming homeless primarily due to unemployment, ill health, forced evictions and vulnerable social circles where older adults do not have friends or family members to help them out, the said Agency.

Displaced Elderly Linda Fett, left, shares her story with Judith Alonso at the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row.

Displaced Elderly Linda Fett, left, shares her story with Judith Alonso, URM Communications Coordinator and Public Relations Officer, at the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row. During her recent struggle with homelessness, Fett has been living with the Union Rescue Mission since February 2022.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Donna Benton, a professor of gerontology at USC and a member of California’s Master Plan for Aging Stakeholder Advisory Committee, said older adults face a unique set of challenges when they become homeless because they often have to compete with other high-priority groups Individuals suffering from mental health problems or who have recently been released from prison.

Older women of color are particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity because they are typically caregivers to their spouses or other family members, Benton said. These women often quit their jobs, move in with relatives and care for them without having to pay rent or earn an income, she said. However, after the death of relatives, it is difficult for these women to find a new apartment or to re-enter the labor market because of their age.

“It may be the first time they’ve lost their housing because of their foster care,” Benton said. “They may be struggling because they don’t understand the new care system that they are navigating and they may not have access to the internet or family members and they may not know where to go for services that are there, to help you.”

Housing shortages are also exacerbating health conditions and shortening the lifespans of older adults, Benton said. She said that while there are programs like the Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) that provide medical and social services for the elderly, they are limited by geography and other factors.

“Sometimes people have enough where they don’t qualify for medical treatment [needs] and they have to slide into poverty, and that’s emotionally difficult for them,” she said. “People are more likely to become depressed and anxious because they don’t get support from these long-term care services.”

Denny Chan, executive director of Equity Advocacy for Justice in Aging, said intergenerational poverty has a compounding effect and often falls along racial and gender lines, partly due to reduced opportunities to participate in the labor market, discrimination or other factors.

“For those of us who have had the privilege and opportunity to retire, your Social Security check will look different than other people’s because of the impact of job discrimination on your income and how much you put into the system . ‘ Chan said.

California’s competitive real estate market and lack of housing stock also makes it difficult for older adults who have steady income from Social Security and other sources to rent or buy homes, Chan said.

Some programs for seniors, such as home-delivered meals and at-home support services, usually rely on the fact that participants are housed, according to Chan.

“The support system that we have developed for older adults largely presupposes that there is a solid and stable home, and one of the things that we regularly fight for is making sure that the people who don’t want that and don’t have to , care facilities can go there, can stay in the community,” he said. “Unfortunately, the system assumes that the home is secure from the outset.”

Linda Fett waves goodbye to a visitor from her room at the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row.

Linda Fett waves goodbye to a visitor from her room at the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Fett, who has been relying on food stamps, plans to file for Social Security next month. The Union Rescue Mission plans to move her to the group’s Hope Gardens Family Center, a residential facility for women and children in Sylmar, sometime next year. Hope Gardens helps women emerge from homelessness in three years.

“People are living longer, but they also have disabilities and things happen as we get older,” Fett said. “Assisted living is a must. I’ve worked as a caregiver with clients who were walking unaided and it broke my heart to go into their homes.”

After Roberta Gordon, 80, was evicted from a senior housing complex in Corona in February, her son used a credit card to pay for a room for her at a Motel 6 for a week. Not being able to live with her son, she moved across the street to the Hotel del Sol in a room paid for by City Net, a non-profit organization for the homeless.

Since then, Gordon has been trying to find somewhere else to live, but many homes are not suitable for her because she is disabled. And those she contacted said they had nothing available and offered to put her on a two- to three-year wait list.

Gordon is enrolled in the county’s Section 8 housing program, but the agency only provides rental vouchers up to $1,400 a month. When the landlords found out that she was included in the welfare program, they often told her that they were not accepting Section 8 funding at the time. Their coupons expired on October 12.

“If I didn’t have this hotel room, I would have to live in my car,” she said. “City Net pays this room for more than $100 a night. I can’t pay for it.”

Gordon said City Net is trying to see if they could get her a spot at the former Ayres Lodge and Suites Corona West at the 91 Freeway, which is being converted into supportive housing for the homeless. But there are only 52 units available and it’s not expected to open until February. Until then, Gordon spends about four or five hours a day phoning various housing ads — an endeavor she describes as a “waste of time.”

“What place can I find?” she said. “Even if I could find someone’s stuff for $800 a month, if I was spending $800 a month, I wouldn’t have money for groceries or gas or anything else.”

“It’s very difficult,” she said. “You just don’t want to live anymore. In the past, families took in family members and they owned a home for three generations. They just don’t take in family members anymore – they’re on their own.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-15/californias-senior-population-is-struggling-to-get-by-without-retirement-savings ‘You don’t want to live anymore.’ California’s seniors living in poverty struggle without retirement savings

Alley Einstein

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