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OC Register: Senior living: Homelessness among older people is on the rise

November 14, 2022

On a recent rainy afternoon in Columbia Falls, Montana, a small town just outside
Glacier National Park, Lisa Beaty and Kim Hilton were preparing to sell most of their
belongings before moving out of their three-bedroom, two-bathroom rental home.

Hilton, who was recovering from a broken leg, watched from his recliner as friends and
family sorted through old hunting gear, jewelry, furniture and clothes.

“The only thing that’s not for sale is the house,” Hilton, 68, said as he checked his blood
sugar. “Everything else has to go.”

Hilton has Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health issues that have left him
unable to work for years. For income, he relies on federal disability benefits. Because of
a shoulder injury and fibromyalgia, 64-year-old Beaty — Hilton’s partner of seven years
— does, too. Combined, their income is roughly $1,500 a month.

That’s no longer enough, though.

Investors bought their house this year and raised the rent from $1,000, including
utilities, to $1,800, plus the cost of utilities.

“They’re not evicting me — on a fixed income, I can’t do it,” Beaty said as she sorted
through her belongings.

They have nowhere else to go.

And they were not just losing their home: The stress of the ordeal caused them to end
their relationship. Beaty planned to move into her daughter’s one-bedroom apartment.
Despite his poor health and still relying on leg braces to prevent another broken leg,
Hilton, who is on Medicare, planned to live out of his truck while he waited for a spot to
open up at one of the few assisted living facilities in Flathead County, which is mostly
rural. The wait could last days, or months.

Beaty and Hilton are part of a recent surge of homelessness among people older than
60. The housing affordability crisis, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, and high
inflation are chipping away at their fixed incomes. Although data is limited, advocates for
seniors and people who are homeless say greater numbers of adults are showing up at
shelters across the country.

The problem is particularly acute in Montana, where the snow has started to fly as the
long Rocky Mountain winter sets in.

Rents in Montana have skyrocketed since the pandemic started. Since 2019, Lewis and
Clark County, for example, has seen rental costs jump 37%, one of the largest spikes in
the U.S., according to data from the research firm CoStar Group published by The
Washington Post.

Nationally, rents rose 11% on average in 2021.

In Southern California, USC’s Casden forecast shows apartment rents will continue
rising over the next two years, though not as much as in the recent past.
Inflation and rising rents are leaving many older Americans on the brink of ruin. The
poverty rate for people 65 and older rose from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021,
according to Ramsey Alwin, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.
People who rely on traditional retirement income, such as Social Security, are having
trouble affording the basic necessities, Alwin said.

“You’ll find that individuals are often coming up short by about $1,000 a month,” she
said, “in order to meet their true needs.”

As a result, many older people must make hard choices about whether to pay for daily
needs such as food and medication or rent. Others simply can’t stretch their money and
must leave their homes.

An upcoming 8.7% cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits will help offset the
effects of inflation, which was 8.2% for the 12 months that ended in September. But,
Alwin said, that won’t be enough to stem the tide of seniors who are losing housing
because of rising rental prices.

Emergency homeless shelters across the country are reporting that more seniors have
been showing up at their doors over the past year, many of whom could no longer make
rent or couldn’t find a new place to live after their homes were sold out from under them,
said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End

It’s impossible to say how many seniors are winding up homeless for the first time, Berg
said, because national homeless counts don’t break down the number of people 25 and
older into smaller age groups and other data isn’t granular enough to differentiate
people losing housing for the first time from older people who are chronically homeless.
But community organizers working directly with those who are homeless have a deep
understanding of how the trend is playing out in their areas.

At the Poverello Center in Missoula, Montana, for example, people in their 60s have
become the second-largest age group served by the shelter, said Programs Director
Lisa Sirois. She said that she has seen people in their 80s and 90s with no place to go
and that the shelter has had to turn away some of them because it wasn’t designed for
their needs.

People in wheelchairs have difficulty navigating the narrow hallways, she said, and the
shelter’s elevator often breaks down, forcing people to use the stairs to access its
dorms. The dorms are lined with bunk beds, which also present challenges.
“Any senior clients or folks with disabilities usually can’t do a top bunk,” Sirois said.
Brian Guyer, housing department director for the Human Resource Development
Council Bozeman, said that when his shelter can’t serve a senior, it also must ask the
person to leave. A memory that still haunts him, he said, is of an older man who froze to
death three days after being denied a spot in the Bozeman shelter because he was
incontinent and had mobility problems.

And with the older homeless population growing, his staff, already overworked and
underpaid, cannot take care of them all, he said.

To prevent the worst outcomes, state and national groups are proposing a slew of

The Montana Coalition to Solve Homelessness, a new organization that plans to lobby
on behalf of shelter providers during the legislative session that starts in January, wants
the state to modify its Medicaid program to make shelters eligible for funding. They
would use the money to provide Medicaid services that could assist seniors living in a
shelter or pay for case management services to help seniors navigate benefit programs
that offer food assistance and subsidized housing or find assisted living and nursing
home facilities.

But the number of available spots in those facilities is shrinking.
Nationally, nursing home closures have displaced thousands of residents. I
Other advocacy organizations want to focus on economic stabilization initiatives that
would help older people stay in their homes. One idea is to change how Social Security
payments are calculated by pegging them to the Elder Index, an online calculator that
estimates living expenses by location. But that would require congressional approval.
“Your current housing is your best chance for keeping housing for this population,” said
Mark Hinderlie, CEO of Hearth, which focuses on homelessness among seniors

Then there is increasing the housing supply, which most people agree is a long-term

For Hilton, any sort of open housing unit can’t come soon enough. As he leaned against
his truck in the driveway of his now former home, he hugged Beaty as she sobbed into
his shoulder before they parted ways.

He drove away in search of a place to camp out, waiting for a call from a local assisted
living facility with an opening. He hoped that call would come before winter
temperatures settled in.

Southern California News Group staff contributed to this report.
This story is part of a partnership that includes Montana Public Radio, NPR, and KHN.
Kaiser Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about
health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major

operating programs at Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF is an endowed nonprofit
organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

The original story can be found here.